The average American is soft as a cashmere Snuggie™. He can’t even bag a Big Mac and fries without the assistance of a large identifying photograph and an easy-to-use numeric ordering system. When the stock market finally collapses, when Domino’s stops delivering and our global Snickers supply dwindles to the double digits, how many of us will able to fend for ourselves? It’s not as if potential food sources won’t be available. Deer are nearly as abundant as Big Macs now; squirrels are as common as chalupas; pigeons and coyotes are on the menu, too.
But how many of us — especially us city slickers who think roughing it means take-out instead of delivery — are confident in our ability to turn game into dinner? If we’re going to survive, we’re going to need meat. It takes a lot of energy to push a gas-parched Prius up a hill, and with marauding gangs of the feral homeless in pursuit, we’re not always going to have time to wait for the latest soybean crop to reach maturity.
But hunt? You might as well just ask us to turn water into wine. In the age of GoogleMaps and pre-plucked lettuce, the hunter is our most potent symbol of self-sufficiency — at least according to men’s magazine editors looking to showcase manly expertise and fiscal conservatives who’d like to replace Social Security with a handful of ammo. The hunter leads a life of untamed authenticity. He’s enviously uncompromised by all the wretched consumer conveniences that have turned the rest of us into giant, elderly infants with iPhones. Take away our wi-fi and our Visa card and we’re helpless. Shut down every last Starbucks and Sam’s Club and the hunter still thrives.
This, anyway, is the popular conception. In the controlled wilderness of niche cable networks like the Outdoor Channel, another story emerges.
If you’ve never watched a hunting show, the explicit materialism on display in series like Primos’ Truth About Hunting and Beyond the Hunt may come as something of a shock. Instead of Terminator-style firepower or the graceful brutality of Animal Planet nature snuff, where furry killing machines chase down even more adorable prey with the predatory zeal of NFL linebackers, you get tubby good ol’ boys in full camouflage trying to sell you things. Hunting, it turns out, involves a lot of shopping.
Take, for example, Primos’ Truth About Hunting. Primos is a manufacturer of hunting calls, which are whistle-like devices that simulate the bleat of, say, a doe in heat or the yelp of a lost turkey. To the human ear, these devices sound like car alarms having wild sex with smoke detectors, but to elk, deer, turkeys, mountain goats, coyotes, and other fur-lined targets, they function like aural magnets of doom.
On a typical episode, camo-clad hunters find a comfy hiding place in the woods, set up their gear, and start making noise with the hunting call. Not much happens at first. The cameras pan slowly, taking in a static landscape of trees and brush. The hunters whisper small talk as they wait. Eventually, after more dissonant courting via the hunting calls, a placid whitetail deer or frisky coyote enters stage left and wanders into the scene. They invariably freeze in an unwittingly accommodating manner. A trigger is pulled, a shot sounds, and the stunned animal goes down. On most episodes, there’s no extended strategizing or tracking, no chase, no escalating drama — just pick a spot with a good sight-line, work your magic with the hunting calls, and when the critters show up, blam!!! Or as the show’s tagline puts it, “This ain’t Hollywood, it’s the truth!”
Can you sit patiently for hours on end? Do you have a sizable checking account? Answer yes to both these questions and, thanks to the ingenuity and initiative of entrepreneurs looking to bag big bucks of their own, a life of defiant autonomy is now accessible to you. If you’ve ever successfully stalked and swatted a rogue mosquito buzzing around your bedroom at night, you actually have more skill than one needs to hunt with the best gear the industry has to offer.
Digital video scouting cameras allow you to monitor your potential quarry remotely, around the clock, for days on end, until you begin to know their habits as intimately as you know your own mate’s. On Beyond the Hunt, a husband-and-wife team even give a nickname — Pretty Boy — to the whitetail buck they’re surveilling most thoroughly. They show off photographs of Pretty Boy with the fond pride of pet owners inflicting you with pictures of their prize pugs and labradoodles.
Once your quarry’s habits are predictable, you can set up camp near its favorite spots inside a ground blind – essentially, a camouflaged tent designed for hunting. Further obscure your presence with the Ozonics HR-100, a $600 high-tech gizmo that promises to make your scent impossible to detect, even by animals that are just a half dozen feet away from you. Even though you’re inside a tent and your scent is invisible, sheathe yourself in Cabela’s Silent Weave “whisper-quiet” camouflage jackets and pants. Along with the aforementioned hunting calls, entice your prey with a life-sized deer decoy with moving parts, or some Buck Magic Extreme Potency Deer Attractant, which its manufacturer bills as “100% fresh doe-urine in a moist, solidified form.”
With such products at one’s disposal, taking down an eight-point whitetail buck, or even a 600-pound elk, no longer seems so unimaginable. In fact, it might even be easier than obtaining a seat at, say, New York’s hottest new sushi restaurant. Which just goes to show you how profoundly rich and powerful our consumer culture is these days — even those with a taste for DIY, off-the-grid autonomy have it easier than pampered urbanites. • 6 March 2009