The Spirit of the Hunt Part Three: for The Hunt

Dec 3, 2018

In previous articles in this series, I’ve reported on three different ministers who said they felt very close to God when hunting. Inspired by this, I’ve interviewed others about their feelings about religious aspects of hunting.

One Lake Erie old-timer told me as he whittled away on a cedar decoy, "I'll tell you what's religious about hunting. If you're out there in a layout and it starts to blow up good, you pray like hell!"

My father, who was a Mason, believed that you should always be in the right state of mind when hunting. He taught me that when I was considering taking a shot at something I should pray to myself, “God, if I take this shot, please let me kill quickly and cleanly and recover the animal I have shot. Otherwise let me miss cleanly.”

I’ve collected many hunting prayers at conventions of hunting organizations. The following are a sample.

Before starting to hunt, traditional cultures often smudge themselves with the smoke of special plants like birch bark, sage, or alder, and pray. The smoke helps conceal human odors, but it also is said to purify the mind and strengthen your connection with spirit.

While hunting, Cherokee hunters pray to the wind, rivers and mountains for success. After killing an animal, they ask the gods' forgiveness for taking the animal's life. After killing a deer, the hunters throw the tongue and some venison into a fire as a sacrifice.

A Mongolian hunting outfitter told me that among certain tribes in his native land, when hunters embark on a hunt they traditionally must pass under a tripod of wooden stakes, 12-15 feet long, that are laced together into a teepee-like form. Each stake is decorated with brightly colored ribbons that waved gaily in the wind. The symbolism of the tripod is that of a portal or entrance into another world; the world of the hunt. Upon returning from hunting, the hunter is supposed to pass under the same tripod, signifying that he is leaving the mindset of the hunter behind and returning to regular cultural norms.

In Europe and the US many Christian hunters pray to St. Hubert, the patron saint of hunting, for guidance and support. Hubert was born in 638 AD. He became a prince 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 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 this, Hubert's wife died in childbirth. Hubert soon entered the Abbey of Staveleot, and became a priest.

In time, Hubert became a Bishop and established Christianity in large sections of the Ardennes Forest . Ultimately Hubert became the saint of hunting and butchering. On November 3, there celebrations of St. Hubert are held in North American and across France, Luxembourg, Germany and Belgium,

The celebration of St. Hubert in St. Ignace Quebec begins with the procession (top) and includes (bottom) the blessing of the dogs.

In St. Ignace, Quebec, on a Sunday in September right before hunting season begins, there is a mass of St. Hubert is celebrated with the sound of horns as armed hunters and their dogs enter the church. In the church, hunters raise their guns over the heads of the procession, which includes clergy and mounted police. The service is followed by a meal, skeet shooting competition, and hunting-related activities.

There is also a long rich tradition of hunting in Muslim countries. The Prophet, Mohammed, practiced archery and hunted, and advocated others to practice archery as it would be good for them. Muslims are some of the finest archers in the world. They also hunt with falcons.

Muslims consider hunting a holy craft, and trace its practice back to the prophet Ishmael, who was a great hunter. Among the mystical Sufi tradition of the Middle East, hunters were organized into guilds, who hunted according to special rituals. There is a Sufi story quite similar to the legend of Saint Hubert. Namely, a hunter goes out into the forest, comes upon a deer and starts to shoot, only to have the deer change into a dervish (a spiritual teacher) who admonishes the hunter for not follow the proper code of conduct of Islamic law.

According to the World Federation of KSI Muslim Communities, there are instructions from "Islamic Laws According to Fatawa of Ayatullah" on how to hunt in a righteous way. One of the rules according to Islamic Laws is that “while using the weapon, the hunter should recite the name of Allah, and it is sufficient if he utters the name of Allah before the target is hit.” Following these laws results in harvesting meat that is pure, Pak. If a Muslim doesn’t hunt in the manner prescribed by the Laws, then eating the meat is forbidden, haraam. Mohammed did not approve of shooting animals that one does not eat, unless it is to protect domestic animals.

A Jesuit priest, Mitch Pacwa, has penned a number of hunting prayers. Here’s one titled “Prayer for successful hunt.” “Lord, I pray that I may take down the game in as painless a way as possible. May I recognize my limits and take the shots I know I can make, not taking a shot that risks maiming or wounding an animal unnecessarily.”

Jim Posewitz, author of the popular book, Beyond Fair Chase, and creator of the Orion Institute, would agree with this, for he told me that: “If there is a sacred moment in the ethical pursuit of game, it is the moment you release the arrow or touch off the fatal shot.

Another hunting prayer comes from rocker Ted Nugent. This is Ted’s -- “Prayer for the Wildthings

"Oh Great Spirit, give me guidance to take in all your wonderment. Help me observe and embrace my role as a Bloodbrother to nature. Teach me to use my gifts of reason and intellect to better connect with the fruits of the earth. Inspire me to practice diligently so as to receive your hoofed, furred, and feathered gifts of sustenance for my family, by killing cleanly that which we can utilize and share with our neighbors. Bless me with the rewards of full participation in your grand creation. Make all our hunts safe, peaceful and complete. Fill me, great father, with the Spirit of the Wild. Thank you for life."

A Spanish outfitter told me that the traditional Spanish hunt for fallow deer, red deer, mouflon, and wild boar, the Monteria, is a driven hunt with beaters and dogs. Typically before the Monteria begins, he or someone else says a prayer as a member of The Royal Brotherhood of the Most Holy Virgin of the Head Savior of the Mountaineer. The entire prayer is a page long and can be found in my book The Sacred Art of Hunting.

The prayer concludes with:

“Oh Divine Clemency! Oh Holiness! Oh always sweet Virgin Mary! To those of us who love the remote solitude of the wilds, please protect us with your warm cape in the pure air of the mountains which is the crowning light of your Sanctuary. Pray for us, Sweet Mother of God, so that we may be worthy of receiving the gifts of such previous chivalrous gentlemen as Eustaquito the Roman, Herman the Gaul, and Hubert of Aquitane, so that we may receive the safe passage offered by Jesus Christ.


Long live the Virgin de Cabeza!

If you want to create your own hunter’s prayer, there is a website with a number of hunter’s sayings and prayers.

The final article in this series will focus on thanksgiving.

— James A. Swan, Ph.D.