One of the things that people who have never hunted might not realize is the remarkable variety of things that hunters experience that are in no way hunting-related. A recent example was a discovery I made while hunting teal on the Missouri River. A friend and I had motored to an island where we camped so as to be at our hunting site at sunrise. Having pitched out tents and eaten supper, we found we had time for a stroll up the sandy beach. Passing a piece of driftwood, I noticed something emerging from a hole in the sand. It was a cicada-killer wasp. When we stopped to watch, we spied another of the big wasps emerging from a second burrow just inches from the first. I was not stung, but I certainly was stunned.
I have known about cicada killers since boyhood, when their enormous size and presumably equally impressive stingers fascinated me. I had seen them stinging dog-day cicadas just behind the head, and I knew that this was done so they could place the cicadas in a burrow, where the female wasps laid their eggs on the living food supply. However, I had never seen one cicada killer burying its prey, let alone two.
This is just one of a thousand things I have witnessed while hunting that I never would have seen otherwise. This illustrates one of the least-understood reasons people hunt. Hunting gives us a reason to engage with nature in ways and to a degree that no other pursuit does.
You might see cicada killers preparing their burrows while birdwatching or photographing riverscapes. But I don’t find those pursuits as engaging as the direct, personal, functional involvement in the circle of life that defines hunting. When I hunt, I observe, but I am not merely an observer. I am a participant, and that focuses my senses in ways no other activity can.