Because we put ourselves and what we do out into the public, we draw criticism from people who don’t hunt, primarily on YouTube and to some degree on Instagram, and especially on the video of Chase’s bear hunt on Kodiak Island in 2016. To those who don't do it, hunting appears to be an exercise in ego, domination, and the “toxic” masculinity we hear of so often in these strange times we’re living in. Even though we try to show it in a way, and tell the stories in a way that explains the activity in the way we approach it; our message seems, for the most part, to fall on deaf ears.
As the primary respondent to these criticisms, I find myself bewildered and often frustrated that the message we’re trying to communicate, is not being received. At first I try civility, especially when the commenter appears reasonable. After a volley or two, however, I lose patience and start talking in emojis.
But it’s got me thinking over the last few weeks to a month, about what it is 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? And I’ll admit, I’ve had some moral dilemma with the fact that we are recording an animals death. But the hunt must go on. It’s too important to the history and future of man to let the tradition die.
Hunters tend to be part of that group Barrack Obama called bitter clingers, the so-called “deplorables”. Our country is important to us. Our families are important to us. Our guns are important to us. As is the Bible... and the likelihood that the Devils beat the Cats the week after Thanksgiving every year.
Wherever you fall in the spectrum of bitter clingers, a few things are evident. Most living humans have some portion of DNA that can be tied directly to Homo Neanderthal and/or another early human species. This evidence supports the idea that our species split genetically from a more ape-like ancestor. Of course there could be other explanations for these DNA traces, but I like the implications of this, so I’m going to run with them. So despite what you may believe about the divine origin of man, I’d ask you to hear me out with an open mind.
If our species split from an early man, then we’ve been evolving for some 3 to 5 million years. That’s a lot of trips around the sun. And the majority of those trips were spent chasing animals and foraging for food as hunters and gatherers. Hunting is literally built into our DNA, who we are as a species, and who we are as individuals.
Early humans roamed massive territories running down and consuming wild horses and bears and wooly mammoths. Their senses would have been as in tune with the natural world as the quarry we hunt today (this is not to say that their senses would have been equal, just that they would have been more in tune with the world that ours). Their lives followed seasonal change, and it’s believed that the quality of their lives was quite good. But about 12,000 years ago came the domestication of grains in the agricultural revolution. Over time, man quit roaming broad territories in pursuit of megafauna, and settled in to obsess over a few species of micro flora. Ever changing horizons were replaced with the obsession over a few acres of plotted ground, and the world became a smaller place. Eventually the settled human won, and hunter societies morphed into the massive technological and cultural enclaves we find ourselves in today. But 12,000 years is a mere blip in evolutionary time. It barely even registers. And the DNA that drives human development, is still to be found in our instinctual composition.
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. But nothing could be further from the truth. And as is common with leftist rhetoric, the exact opposite is true - or worse, it’s a case of the pot calling the kettle black.
The brilliance of Paleolithic population dynamics, is that human numbers stayed well below the carrying capacity of the land. Humans were a scarce creature, much 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 them into small monotonous spaces doing small monotonous tasks over and over again, things in the mind go awry. You can’t really study this in humans due to 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 for example, 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. This seems eerily familiar to my accidentally opening the atrocious News app on my iPhone and reading a few headlines. If the brain evolved in scarcity, amid interesting, changing places - it makes sense that the psychology of the brain would turn to psychopathology in the modern alternative. That hunters are "bitter clingers" holding on to ever changing horizons in the pursuit of game, generally prefer natural environments to the urban cocoons, and seek a life built more closely to those of paleo-hunters, is it unreasonable to think that hunters are, perhaps, the most well adjusted of us all?
For paleo-hunters, three things made for a good healthy life. And those three things still enrich a human being today, and are all we really need. Those three things are membership in a tribe, an ample supply of meat, and movement. And hunting today provides all of those three things, through one activity.
Hunter/gatherer tribes comprised a number of smaller hunting bands. These tribes shared territories, customs, and rituals that formed cohesion amongst the disparate bands. It’s believed that tribes consisted of somewhere between 200 and 1500 individuals, providing social interaction and genetic diversity. The bands that composed the tribes were about 25 people, or six adult males who were tasked with the hunting duties. One of the best aspects of hunting today, is doing it with a small group of hunting friends. It’s a tradition passed on from generation to generation, and shared amongst members of our makeshift modern hunting bands. Chase and my friendship is what it is today primarily because we’ve been on so many kills together. We’ve packed loads of wild game meat out of the woods together, and have enjoyed the tasty spoils of those hunts together. The same holds true for all of the guys that I have hunted with. The struggle, the failure, the success, the work welds the bonds of friendship.
Though history books would say otherwise, hunter groups generally did not experience massive periods of famine, nor live in utter fear of their environment. There were undoubtedly lean times, but mass starvation just wasn’t a thing. It took these bands of hunters about 3 hours a day to supply their caloric needs, leaving several hours to attend to other tasks or pastimes. They were proficient to the point of killing off species of megafauna as large as the wooly mammoth (with some help from a changing climate). Hunter groups don’t tend to worry about tomorrow, they tend to be quite satisfied with the day, and are highly in tune with their surroundings. The meat provided by hunting, and other gathered foods created a rich and varied diet. Some studies indicate that hunters ate from a dozen different sources of meats, and over 40 varieties of plant foods. It wasn’t just meat and potatoes, and their bodies were rewarded for the diversity of nutrients.
The biological systems we depend on for life today are a direct result of our paleo-ancestor’s proficiency and dependency on hunting. Man evolved to move. To run. To walk. Paleo hunters chased down antelope and horses, and ran from predators. With agriculture, we became less mobile and more dependent on a handful of grains. Without the environment or impetus to exercise the muscles and glands used in hunting, the body undergoes stress. We get heart disease, strokes, and a host of other diseases that were unlikely to affect the hunter groups we evolved from. We’ve extended our lives through medicine and surgery to some degree, but we’re far more likely to get sick anyway. Hunting today requires movement. And many hunters move throughout the year to be physically prepared for the hunt when the time in fall comes.
Tribe. Meat. Movement.
That’s all that’s needed. And ultimately, that’s what The Mountain Project advocates, and does so against a world that’s moving in the opposite direction. We’re bitterly clinging to our deplorable past as hunters, because like you, we know just how healthy and enriching a hunting life can be. So while other groups and celebrities have made other issues their calling card, important issues such as animal conservation, or public land advocacy (all things we also feel strongly about), we're making our focus a little different... about the health and quality of life being a modern hunter creates. And we hope the Tribe|Meat|Movement movement resonates with you too.