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Hunting, fishing play important cultural role for society

Pleistocene cave paintings, animal mimicry, tool making and the development of binocular vision in humans evidence the roles that hunting and fishing played in the development of art, language, religion, our brains and bodies.

But, do hunting and fishing have roles in our modern society, profuse with warm, 99-cent hamburgers in crisp paper wrappers? Many people believe that these ancient and important acts of “making meat” do provide significant, often intangible benefits to today’s “civilized” humans.

Locavores ... it’s a “foodie chic,” new word for someone who eats locally sourced foods. Not long ago, all people were locavores by necessity and economy.

The import of items like raspberries and peaches in January, flown in from the Southern hemisphere, is a recent market phenomenon. Eating locally produced foods also reduces your environmental footprint, helps support community-based agriculture and has a local story — a context of labor, place and time.

Today, locavores run the gamut from those who are intermittent supporters of local farmers’ markets to full-blown food fanatics. Food, for some people, means growing and canning their own. It means stocking enough local potatoes, beans and squash to outlast winter.

And for others, being a locavore means going hunting and putting organic, hormone-free, free-range protein in the freezer.

Remember your grandmother’s suggestion? “You are what you eat.” When you eat wild game, you eat Rocky Mountain snowfall, intense Colorado sunshine, nutrients ground from granite by glaciers, and delicate summer wildflowers.

Wild game meat is low in bad cholesterol and high in good cholesterol. In protein, iron, niacin and other nutrients, it tops its counterparts presented on Styrofoam trays.

And it’s not only good for your body. It’s good for the soul.

Hunters and anglers often identify, “quality time with family and friends” as a major motivator for going into the backcountry. Multigenerational hunting camps and reunited groups of friends (that have hunted together for decades) are common on forested lands each fall.

Ancient hunter/gatherer cultures were cooperative, sharing societies. Hunting mammoth-sized herbivores or pushing bison into and off a “pishkun” required cooperation. The sudden, over-abundance of meat facilitated sharing it with local and neighboring communities. Sharing created impromptu, prehistoric food banks for times when neighbors were successful and the community was hungry.

Community game-meat dinners, game-meat donation programs and simple sharing of the bounty among friends show that the spirit of sharing is still alive in today’s hunters and anglers. Hunters in Southwest Colorado donated elk and deer jerky to give our soldiers in Iraq a taste of home. And, non-hunters and anglers note: An invite to a hunter’s or angler’s home for dinner says much about the relationship. If they serve brookies or elk back strap, your relationship is significant!

In his best-selling book, “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder,” Richard Louv explained: “The woods were my Ritalin. Nature calmed me, focused me, and yet excited my senses.”

For many people, hunting and fishing provides a deep connection to nature and the cure for “nature-deficit disorder.” Caleb, a young man from Loveland, Colo., lives with ADHD and its associated problems in school and at home. Yet, he sits Zen-like in concentration while fishing with a rod rigged with a gold spinner on a black-and-yellow body.

Hunting and fishing require patience, eye-hand coordination, decision-making and many other skills. Developing these skills improves self esteem, deepens our self awareness and takes a lifetime. Deep emotions and common experiences shared in quiet, by the light of a campfire strengthen character. For young and old, hunting and fishing enhance life skills and are the things of which lifelong friendships are made.

Supplementing our food supply with local wild game is good for the environment. Nutritionally, game meat is good for the body. Time spent in nature, with family and friends or in quiet reflection, is good for the brain. Sharing and cooperation are good for the community.

Yet, hunting and fishing are not for everyone. They are a serious, reverent choice. Do I have a safe shot? Will I prepare this fish with care? Am I ready to do all the things I need to do to justify the loss of the life I am about to take? The power of choice is invaluable!

So, perhaps hunting and fishing play greater—albeit different roles—in modern society than they played during the Pleistocene. For many, hunting and fishing are not a matter of life and death; they are much more important than that!

Outdoor tip

Even if you don’t plan on going hunting, consider taking a Hunter Education course. You’ll learn about wildlife management, woodcraft and survival skills. See the Colorado Parks and Wildlife website for a schedule: http://wildlife.state.co.us.

Patt Dorsey is an area wildlife manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife in Durango.

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