Book Review – Bloodties: Nature, Culture, and the Hunt

I could say…that an elk provides more food per death inflicted. I could say that, but I’d be inconsistent. I shoot ruffled and blue grouse, maybe only a pound of meat per death, because there is nothing sweeter tasting in these mountains except berries… Plus, in my anomalous form of accounting, they are somehow even wilder than elk. No one ranches grouse for restaurants or feeds them alfalfa through the winter.

Bloodties: Nature, Culture, and the Hunt by Ted Kerasote

I recently re-read this and figured I’d go ahead and review it here, since it had a pretty formative influence on my views of food in general and hunting in particular. It’s divided into three sections: Food, Trophies, and Webs.

In “Food,” Kerasote describes his weeks spending time with the people of Kullorsuaq, Greenland and learning about their mostly subsistence hunter lifestyle. An interesting section, if dotted here and there with a more modern version of the Noble Savage stereotype.

The next section, “Trophies,” has Kerasote following along with a hunter from Safari Club, International. Much ado is made by the hunter of sportsmanship and the money trophy hunting brings to communities, both in America and abroad. If you didn’t already realize which of these two groups Kerasote prefers, you know now.

The most interesting section by far is the last, “Webs,” in which Kerasote discusses his own form of hunting, which is pretty much American-style subsistence…he hunts every year to fill his freezer, much as my own family did when I was growing up. He feels (probably correctly) that by killing one or two elk per year, foraging for berries and such, and growing a small patch of potatoes near his house, that he’s doing less damage to both the environment and to the lives of individual creatures.

“After all, where would [the elk’s] pain go? To the next county? To the next state? Or perhaps to the arctic where the oil needed to transport rice and beans to Wyoming, equivalent nutrition to the meat of these yearly elk, spills and ends the lives of three otters, a half-dozen seals, and a score of common murre chicks, which is how I reckoned the costs of being a fossil fuel vegetarian.”

“It is truly impossible, no matter how low one eats on the food chain, to take no lives at all. [Pam] calls this the ‘cruelty of vegetarianism’: the countless small creatures – invertebrate, rodent, and avian – lost as the fields are plowed and harvested.”

It’s rather unfortunate that he spends so little time on these thoughts before moving on to a discussion of the anti-hunting part of the Fund for Animals. And while he does a good job of trying to contrast different views of hunting, he leaves out those like my own family, caught somewhere between the people he discusses. He’s also got a bit of a spiritual bent to his writing that some may not appreciate. Still, it’s a valuable book and one I’m happy to keep around.

A few more interesting quotes:

“‘Most people in the United States do not go hunting, they go killing. They’re killers. I’ve been with those Texans. They drive you out, and a guy spreads a half sack of corn on one field…and they put you in a thing that looks like an outhouse…and the automatic feeder goes off, and a deer comes up, and you shoot it. That’s not hunting.'”

I included this one (said by one of the trophy hunters) because it’s true. Texans do occasionally bait while hunting, but not always. As for the outhouse, well, if you want to stalk deer through South Texas, where every piece of vegetation tries to impale you, be my guest. Stand hunting isn’t everyone’s style; it takes patience (and often beer). However, my father’s idea of sportsmanship involves no “high-fenced bullshit,” not shooting anything you aren’t willing to clean, and carrying enough gun to drop the deer dead with one shot. As Bloodties points out, hunting has a lot of cultural baggage attached to it, and everyone’s ideas on the matter differ.

“The author, the musicologist R. Murray Schafer, recounts how he once asked his meditating students to hum what they considered to be the tone of ‘primal unity’ – the sound which arose from the very center of their being… In America Schafer discovered that most students hummed B natural, which happens to be the resonant frequency of our 60-cycle electric current. In Europe, students hummed G sharp, the resonant frequency of that continent’s electrical wiring.”

[Regarding a pet’s death.] “There is no balance sheet, only a continuous departure and unexpected arrival, the flow of intimacy waxing and waning like the moon.”

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