The Spirit of the Hunt -4 – Thanksgiving

Dec 4, 2018

You’ve taken the shot and the animal is down. It died quickly. Congratulations.  How do you feel?  Hunting can and does touch the soul. That moves many hunters to respond with giving thanks.

Archery pioneer Fred Bear once said that hunting a grizzly or brown bear with a bow and arrow would "cleanse the soul." 

Film and television actor Marshall Teague says a prayer when he kills a deer, bear or elk:  Lord, bless this noble creature that has given his time and spirit to engage in the chase. Permit him green pastures to graze, thick forests to roam and take his heart and soul into his blessed hands.

Among the Kwakiutl Indians of British Columbia, when a bear is killed by a hunter, the hunter must follow a proper ritual to honor the soul of the bear. He begins by sitting on the ground on the right side of the bear. Then he says:

Thank you, friend, that you did not make me walk about in vain. Now you have come to take mercy on me so that I may obtain game, that I may inherit your power of getting easily with your hands the salmon that you catch.

Now I will press my right hand against your left hand (says the man as he takes hold of the left paw of the bear, and then continues). 

 O friend, now that we press together our working hands, that you may give over to me your power of getting everything easily with your hands, friend.

After this prayer the hunter can begin skinning the bear. 

German Hunters blow horn over the kill of that day.

In Europe, at the end of the day, all animals taken that day are laid out on the ground and hunters and guides stand beside the animals while a guide blows a hunting horn, and prayers honoring the animals are said. 

Hunters may also be initiated after their first kills.

"Blooding," when blood from the animal the hunter kills is painted on the face of the hunter, is an initiation ritual performed for first kills world-wide. In George Butler's 1989 feature-length docu-drama film, "In the Blood," (PHOTO 2) which retraces Theodore Roosevelt's l909 African safari with Theodore Roosevelt IV and V, professional hunter Robin Hurt performs a blooding ceremony on Tyssen Butler, who has taken his first big game animal, a cape buffalo, using Roosevelt's famous Holland and Holland rifle.

Standing over the fallen animal, they talk about emotions -- excitement, fear and sadness at the death of a majestic animal. Then, as the guides begin to cut open the animal, Hurt says, "Tyssen, this is the most important part. Do you know what you've done? You've just taken your first animal. That's a special moment."

Hurt then dips his hand into the buffalo's blood, takes Tyssen by the shoulder, and directs him to face toward the horizon, looking into the sun. "Let's look over there, into the horizon," Hurt says. This is where this buffalo has lived all his life. Beautiful piece of country."

After a nostalgic pause, Hurt turns to Tyssen and paints blood across the boy's forehead and cheeks as two African trackers excitedly warble a high-pitched tremolo of praise. When he’s finished, Hurt says, "Congratulations." The trackers step forward, and paint Tyssen's face. Hearty handshakes are then exchanged by all. Tyssen has just joined the membership of big game hunters.

Scottish hunting guide Michael Roberts relates that in Poland some hunting guides conduct blooding rites by painting the cross of Saint Hubert in blood on the hunter's face. The hunter kneels beside the animal. The guide dips his knife in the blood of the wound then presses the knife blade vertically on one cheek, and then horizontally to make a cross. This is repeated on the other cheek and finally the forehead. When this is done, the guide shakes the hunter's hand and stands up.

Blooding is also done in North America. When he was 10 years old, a family friend invited George P. Mann to go deer hunting in West Alabama. Decades later, Mann recalls that he was "so excited I couldn't sleep for over a month until the day arrived." Luck was with Mann, and on his first outing he killed a buck with four-inch spikes. That evening, back at the lodge, the friend had young George stand up before everyone, and dipping his finger into the deer's blood, he painted smears onto Mann's face, initiating him into the society of hunters. That blooding ceremony has had a life-long effect on Mann.

As George grew older, his love for hunting also grew. Around his home in Opelika, Alabama, there were no deer, so in l965, with the support of the Alabama Fish and Game Department, George initiated a trapping and stocking program to bring deer into Lee County. By improving the habitat, the herd began to grow, and record-size bucks began to be taken. George Mann then set aside a tract of several hundred acres of his personal land specifically for people to take their first deer. Several hundred hunters have killed their first deer on Mann's property. For each, George conducts the blooding ceremony. 

Being the initiator of so many hunters moved Mann to make his next step in honoring the heritage of hunting. In the spring of l999, on the outskirts of Opelika, Alabama, George P. Mann opened a 34,000 square-foot outdoor education center, the Mann Museum and Outdoors, situated on a 10 acre tract of land set aside as a nature preserve.  Mann Museum contains numerous mounted fish and animals, and fossil relics, and is a popular attraction for school groups and tourists. 

Another honoring of game and hunter is “the last bite,”  “letzebissen” or “letzer bissen” in Austria, Holland and Germany, and by some Americans. Retired professor  Dr, Valerius Geist says Germans break (never cut) a twig from one of five tree species in descending preference: oak, pine, spruce, fir and alder. With the animal placed on its right side upon a bed of leaves as a sign of respect. Then they pull the broken twig through its mouth from one side to the other and leave it clamped between its jaws.

Another sprig of greenery is placed in the successful hunter’s hatband to let others know of his or her good fortune. And if you hunt in Germany or Austria, you will hear the term “Weidmannsheil,” which is a form of congratulations and good luck.

Thanksgiving meals

"Father guide my hands and heart so that no part of the animal will be wasted."  Stephen King, The Dark Tower IV: Wizards and Glass

 Serving wild game meat for Thanksgiving dinner is one way to honor wild game. Also, all across the country hunters donate meat from game taken to Hunter’s for the Hungry programs. 

We continue to be Sportsmen Against Hunger and donate our game to the homeless and the shelterless so that we can feed them. There's no end of things that everyone of you can do out there to show middle America that just because we hunt and fish, does not mean that we are not contributing members of society. . . We care about our country and we're willing to contribute to our country.

General Norman Schwarzkopf  (1996 speech to Safari Club Internatl.)

Clearly, along with donations to conservation organizations, and becoming a Hunter Education Instructor, there are many important ways to practice thanksgiving for the privilege of the hunt, so the wildlife may be honored, and hunters can participate in the hunt mind, body and spirit.

—James A. Swan, P.hD.