When the strange idea of becoming a hunter crept into the back of my mind more than a decade ago, I was hungry for guidance. I was hungry for practical advice, yes. But I was also hungry for ways of thinking.
I sensed that hunting—like gardening or forestry—could be an integral part of respectful, mindful living. I sensed that it could be a practice of re-membering: of recalling and reaffirming our membership in the larger-than-human natural world.
I was looking for expressions of hunting in this spirit.
In that quest, I talked with my uncle Mark, kept my ears sharp for meaningful conversations among other hunters, and kept an eye out for books like Heart and Blood and essays like those in A Hunter’s Heart. I was alert to anything that might help me orient myself as I stepped into the unfamiliar terrain of hunting.
I would have been intrigued then, as I am now, by the MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) the University of Wisconsin is about to launch.
You may be familiar with Leopold’s articulation of the land ethic in A Sand County Almanac: “A land ethic changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it. It implies respect for his fellow-members, and also respect for the community as such.”
If so, then most of the course title—“The Land Ethic Reclaimed: Perceptive Hunting, Aldo Leopold, and Conservation”—probably makes sense to you. And you won’t be surprised to learn, as I recently did, that the phrase “perceptive hunting” echoes that ethic. According to the course site, it means hunting with awareness of our impacts and a grounded understanding of our participatory roles in ecological systems, “taking into account the whole system that is affected when we hunt.”
The free course is open to everyone, with an unlimited number of participants. It is especially appropriate for hunters, the hunting-curious, local food enthusiasts, and nature and science lovers of all stripes. It promises to help people understand “the historical legacy of wildlife management,” “the role of wildlife in ecosystems,” “the importance of ethics in guiding management decisions and hunter choices,” and “the emerging face of hunting today,” among other topics.
If you don’t have time to take the course over the next several weeks, you can do it later. The content will remain online for future access.
If you happen to live in Wisconsin, check out the upcoming special events, including two February classes on hunting and preparing wild game and an April appearance by Steve Rinella.
With hunting and conservation both in a period of rapid transition—culturally, demographically, fiscally, and otherwise—this strikes me as the perfect time to reclaim and reexamine Leopold’s land ethic. Anyone with a stake in wildlife conservation, hunting, food, or biodiversity (in other words, each and every one of us) has something to learn from, and contribute to, explorations of these matters.