Saturday, June 13, 2009

An Idle Thought

Has anyone done any work -- serious or popular -- into analyzing the different standards of "hunting" in the US and UK and using those to explain the characters of the two countries?

Here's what I mean:

In the US, "hunting" can be social, but the essentials of it are individual: hunters mostly go out alone, carefully camouflaged to sight and smell, to hide in the woods or quietly stalk their prey. That prey typically is large; the standard hunted animal in North America is the white-tailed deer. (For the hunters out there, I'm ignoring bird hunting for the purposes of this discussion.) A successful hunter then has to bring his kill out of the woods, which is no small job and has been the source of many useful gadgets. Hunters see themselves as part of a tradition, one that reaches back to the 18th and 19th century frontiersmen and even to Native Americans; those most serious about that tradition often avoid modern technology -- using black-powder weapons or bows -- as much as possible to focus on their skills and be more "fair." It can be a very expensive hobby, but the essentials of it -- a long gun, tough outdoor clothing, and a permit -- are within the reach of nearly every rural person, and already part of the lives of many of them.

In the UK, "hunting" is immensely social and ritualized, organized into centuries-old Hunts with severely aristocratic overtones and requiring serious expenditure and gear, including large numbers of dogs and horses. (Again, American hunting sometimes uses dogs, but mostly for bird hunting, which I'm ignoring to make the distinctions clearer.) The dress code is also very regimented. The standard hunted animal is a fox -- once a serious agricultural pest, but now existing mostly to be hunted -- which provides only sport, not food, unlike the American deer. Obviously tradition is very important to British hunting, but it's a civilized, aristocratic tradition rather than one related to food-gathering or individual expertise. (One can show oneself well in a British hunt, but it's the dogs that get the fox -- an American hunter makes his own kill from start to finish.)

Has anyone ever used that as a way to write about the differences in the two nations? I'd be interested in reading that book. (Said the man who spent five years editing a book club for American hunters.)
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Susan at Stony River said...

That's a book I'd read too: I hadn't thought of those differences until now.

My Daddy went hunting every November, to fill the freezer with deer. He went fishing every spring, to fill it again with fish. No dressing up funny and bouncing around on horses however! It was for provision, not tradition. Now you've got me thinking...

Anonymous said...

You might ask Lynneguist over at Separated by a Common Language.

Jon Barnard said...

The fact that hunting as you describe it is now illegal in Britain (ostensibly on animal welfare ground) may be another pertinent difference.

Nick said...

Surely it has to do with the game, the type of environment the hunting is being done in etc as well? In New Zealand (where I'm from) the main game is duck, wild pigs and deer. People hunt pigs with dogs and some would use a retriever or pointer for birds but also a lot of hunting is in National Parks where dogs aren't allowed.

I suspect hunting in the UK (ie. fox hunting) is like that because there's bugger all else to hunt. But also, according to wikipedia ( it's because hunting as a term means hunting with hounds, where as the US style of hunting is called stalking.

Johan Larson said...

"My Daddy went hunting every November, to fill the freezer with deer."

I wonder whether that's a good use of time, considered in purely economic terms. Do you get more pounds of meat per hour going hunting or working a second job and buying commercial meat?

Of course it's not that simple: stalking the wily whatever is fun and working a tollbooth isn't, but I still think it would be useful to know.

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