A shed caribou antler rests on alpine tundra in the Brooks Range. Photo by Jack McClure.
Growing up in suburban Chicago, I had few opportunities for hunting. The metropolitan area is filled with human activity and development. Even though there are small parcels of forest, those are off limits to hunting. Besides, for most of my life, hunting was the farthest thing from my mind. Our food came from a farm or a factory, and often a combination of both.
The source was no different for everyone else I knew. Our family lived at the edge of a small forest. Frequently, we could watch deer feed among shrubs in the yard. There was no thought of these wild animals as food.
In college, my diet transitioned to whole foods and plant based. There was no consumption of processed foods, meat, or dairy. Outside of a raw food diet, it is considered by some to be the most extreme approach to a vegan diet. The choice was mainly related to health, and the idea of hunting moved even farther off of my radar. Within that period, I went to Alaska for the first time, spending the whole summer exploring Prince William Sound and Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. Emerging with a new passion for Alaska, I devoured all the written material about the state that I could get my hands on. I read everything from memoirs to historical to anthropological works—all was fair game. These readings broadened, not just tomes about Alaska, but about all cultures. The approach that hunter-gatherers took to life and the skill they possessed fascinated me.
After a brief return to Alaska in the spring of 2014, I permanently moved to the state the next year. I acknowledged that I’d have to be less strict regarding my diet, for the nearest grocery store to my new home was 275 miles away. I also didn’t have access to a kitchen to make my own food. I was forced to do something the human species does best: adapt.
As I spent more time in Alaska, hunting became more familiar. Many of the people I met were hunters in some capacity, and I witnessed the difference in hunting styles: sport vs. subsistence, road vs. wilderness, and motorized vs. non-motorized. The more time I spent in the area, the more I wanted to learn about the landscape and traditional Native practices. In my second year, I purchased a rifle, pursuing ducks and geese in the spring and grouse in the fall. In my third, I pursued more small game and topped off the annual harvest with my first moose.
This journey has taken me from ignorance and lack of ability to source food to one of awareness and capability of providing for oneself. The process has required lots of introspection, and I discovered that I don’t have to compromise or change my values. By hunting locally, I reduce my dependence on factory farms and lower my carbon footprint. By using every aspect of the animal—forgoing waste—I show respect, and the act becomes sacred, almost like receiving a gift. By avoiding motorized transport as much as possible when hunting, I’m more aware of the space I’m traversing and am forced to employ my skills. Hunting is a hotly contested topic in many urban areas today, but through proximity and consideration, I have become comfortable with it. And the introspection hasn’t ended; if I’m going to be the type of hunter I hope to be, it won’t ever end. The act of taking the life of another animal comes with great responsibility and respect. It is something that I don’t take lightly, and I intend to hold myself to the highest standard.