Hey there, time traveller! This article was published 2/4/2010 (2849 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A Hunter's Confession
By David Carpenter
Greystone Books, 243 pages, $30
HUNTING: Is it a male rite of passage? A chance to act as a Hollywood he-man? Killing for the sheer fun of it? All of these?
In what is part memoir and part philosophical musing, Saskatoon literary gent David Carpenter grapples with these questions.
His anecdotes, analysis of other writing on the subject, and personal soul-searching make for a lucid, provocative and often humorous exploration of an activity that has been both castigated and cherished over the years.
It was Carpenter's father who taught him to hunt, having learned from his own father.
"He showed me how to carry a loaded gun safely," says Carpenter, "how to swing it in concert with the bird's flight, where to look for birds. It was his old castoff hunting coat I always wore, his gun I trained on, his initiative that took me out to Egg Lake to shoot at clay pigeons from my 13th year on. And it was his friends who showed me how entirely sociable a hunting trip could be."
Carpenter developed his own coterie of hunting buddies, enjoying the camaraderie and the tranquility of the wilderness. But he also became aware of a certain ambivalence — mixed feelings.
Did the Bible's decree that humans have dominion over all the creatures of the Earth sanction the heartless killing that even Ernest Hemingway delighted in?
Or could hunting be compassionate killing? Could you in fact gain a real intimacy with the wilderness, immerse yourself in the hunt, learn the habits of your quarry — duck, deer, moose — and come to love that which you seek to kill?
There is this distinction between those who hunt humanely (you must never wound an animal and leave it to suffer) and those who "hunt with so many gadgets (helicopters, Ski-Doos, radio phones, night scopes, ATVs, SUVs, trail cameras, etc.) that they never really engage with the profound solitude of the wild. If they have enough money, people can turn hunting into mere target practice."
What makes Carpenter's writing so engrossing is that he's been there, done that — he's experienced many kinds of hunting in many different settings, and he tells about them in a variety of stories. He also gives a brief history of hunting and cites the decline of hunting as a reason for wildlife's recent encroaching on townsites.
Perhaps most dramatic is his story of a catastrophic nosebleed that convinced him to give up hunting. He's become one of those whose "great love for the quarry finds a new expression [as] they go from hunter to watcher to advocate."
Carpenter attained some notoriety in the 1980s when he invited two famous American writer-hunters — Raymond Carver and Richard Ford — up to Saskatchewan to go goose-hunting, and they came. This event is only touched upon here, having been fully covered in his 1994 essay collection Writing Home.
A Hunter's Confession is Carpenter's third book in less than three years, following a funny novel (Niceman Cometh) and a fine story collection (Welcome to Canada).
All three offerings show his keen ear for vernacular, his robust sense of humour, and his thought-provoking insight into what it means to be a member of the human species in today's world.
In this latter regard, A Hunter's Confession belongs on the same shelf as two other recent works: Winnipegger Jake MacDonald's Grizzlyville and Reginian Trevor Herriot's Grass, Sky, Song.
All three remind us city folk that we share the planet with an amazing array of other creatures.