The Essentials: Tribe. Meat. And Movement

Jay Park
July 1, 2021

We draw a lot of criticism from people who don’t hunt. Our message is that hunting is a natural and fun human activity. But this falls on deaf ears with most uninitiated urbanites. To those who don’t hunt, it appears to be an exercise in ego, domination, and “toxic” masculinity.

I grew up with hunting. So, their criticisms are as bewildering to me as hunting is to them.

When responding, I try civility first. But I lose patience after a volley or two of idiocy. The conversation is doomed.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been thinking about what we’re trying to say. What is The Mountain Project? Why do we do what we do? And why film it? Why do we watch other people hunt?

There is a small percentage of Neanderthal in almost all living human’s DNA. This supports the idea that our species split from a more distant, ape-like ancestor. If our species separated from an earlier humanoid, then our species has been evolving for 3 to 5 million years. That’s a lot of trips around the sun. And we spent most of those trips chasing animals and foraging for food. Hunting is built into our DNA. It is who we are as a species. It is who we are as individuals.

Early humans, like other apex predators, were few in number. They roamed massive territories. They ran down and consumed prey like wild horses, bears, and wooly mammoths. They were as at home in the natural world as an elk or a deer is today. They wouldn’t have known anything else. Their lives followed seasonal changes. And despite popular opinion, the quality of their lives was good. If a primitive human survived childhood, its life would likely be long. But about 12,000 years ago, humans domesticated grains—the agricultural revolution. Over time, man quit roaming vast territories in pursuit of megafauna. Instead, he settled into a few acres to obsess over a few species of microflora. He replaced ever-changing horizons with a pittance of plotted ground. The world became a smaller place. For some time, nomadic humans coexisted with settled humans. But eventually, settlements won. Forager societies morphed into the massive technological and cultural enclaves we call cities.

But 12,000 years is a mere blip in evolutionary time. It barely registers. The psychology that drives human behavior is still based on our evolutionary past.

The most common denigration from the anti-hunter is that we’re sociopaths with a thirst for blood. That there must be something wrong with hunters—something sick about us. But nothing could be further from the truth. And as with most leftist rhetoric, the exact opposite is true.

Paleolithic dynamics kept human populations well below the carrying capacity of the land. The weak, the sick, the unlucky didn’t survive childhood. Humans were scarce creatures—like apex predators today. When human populations explode, the environment degrades. Man with his large, complex brain needs interesting and changing surroundings. When you cram humans into small, monotonous spaces doing small, monotonous tasks, things in the mind go awry. You can’t study this in humans because of the ethical nature of experimentation. But you can draw conclusions based on research of other species… and the results aren’t good.

When you cram rats or rabbits into tight spaces, you get diminished mothering, gender-role confusion, social withdrawal, and lethargy. Studies of primates in zoos and men in prisons return abnormal dominance hierarchies, sexual perversions, hostility, and intolerance. Does this seem eerily similar to the headlines of today’s newspapers?

If the brain evolved in scarcity amid interesting, changing places—it’s logical that our psychology would turn to psychopathology in this modern alternative. That hunters are “bitter clingers” holding on to ever-changing horizons in the pursuit of game… that we prefer natural environments to urban cocoons… and we prefer a life built more closely to those of paleo-hunters is not a sign of mental illness. Instead, it’s evidence that hunters are the most well-adjusted of us all?

For paleo-hunters, three things made for a good life. And those three things still enrich a human being today. Those three things are membership in a tribe, an ample meat supply, and movement.

Hunting provides all three in one activity.

Hunter/gatherer tribes comprised smaller hunting bands. Tribes shared territories, customs, and rituals, forming cohesion amongst the disparate bands. Tribes consisted of somewhere between 200 and 1500 individuals. They provided social interaction and genetic diversity. Somewhere around 25 people made a hunting band. Six adult males handled the hunting duties. One of the best aspects of hunting today is doing it with a small group of friends. It’s a tradition passed on from generation to generation. Your friends are a makeshift modern hunting band. Chase and my friendship is what it is today because we’ve been on many kills together. We’ve brought hundreds of pounds of wild game meat out of the woods together. And we’ve enjoyed the tasty spoils of those hunts. The same is true of everyone I’ve hunted with. The struggle, the failure, the success, and the work welds the bonds of friendship.

Though many say otherwise, hunter groups did not experience massive periods of famine. War was limited. And they did not live in fear of the environment. There were lean times, but mass starvation wasn’t a thing. It took primitive people around 3 hours daily to supply their caloric needs. This left them several hours to attend to other tasks or pastimes. They were proficient. They killed off species as large as the wooly mammoth (with some help from a changing climate). Hunter groups, even today, don’t worry about tomorrow. They are satisfied with the day and are in tune with their surroundings. The meat provided by hunting and other gathered foods created a rich and varied diet. Some studies show hunters ate from a dozen different sources of meats and over 40 varieties of plant foods. A diversity of nutrients rewarded their bodies and their health.

The biological systems we depend on today result from our paleo ancestors’ skill and dependency on hunting. Man evolved to move. To run. To walk. To throw. Paleo hunters chased down antelope and horses, running from and throwing rocks at predators. But with agriculture, we became less mobile and more dependent on a handful of grains. Without the impetus to move the muscles and glands used to hunt, the body undergoes stress. We get heart disease, strokes, and a host of other conditions. These ailments were unlikely to affect the hunter groups we evolved from. We’ve extended our lives through medicine and surgery but are far more likely to get sick anyway. Hunting today requires movement. Many hunters move throughout the year to prepare for the hunt when the time in fall arrives.

Tribe. Meat. Movement.

That’s all that’s needed. And that’s our message to the world. The story we tell with every video, with every post. It’s our answer to a culture moving in the opposite direction. We’re bitterly clinging to our deplorable past as hunters and foragers. Because, like you, we know how healthy and enriching a hunting life can be. So, while others make issues such as conservation or public land advocacy their calling card, this is ours.

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