Adult-onset hunting: Know the signs

Experts have not yet determined whether Adult-Onset Hunting™ (AOH) is an epidemic. What they do know is that thousands of people are afflicted.

More than a year ago, it was known—and reported in a widely read New York Times article—that a growing number of U.S. citizens had the condition. According to a recent article in Toronto’s National Post, a number of Canadian citizens have contracted it as well. The geographic epicenter is unknown. Though early reports suggested that AOH is most commonly contracted in cities, recent research indicates that it is even more virulent in rural areas.

Experts suspect that AOH may have lain dormant in the American psyche for generations, feeding off 19th-century stories about Daniel Boone.

The most recent outbreak appears to be a mutation, triggered in part by widespread interest in knowing more about one’s food sources than is psychologically healthy. One pathological example often cited by both experts and adult-onset hunters is journalist Michael Pollan’s twin desires to visit cattle feedlots and to shoot a wild pig.

When fully developed, the primary symptoms of AOH are unmistakable: an otherwise normal, heretofore-non-hunting adult repeatedly goes to woods, fields, or marshes with a deadly implement in hand, intent on killing a wild animal.

Other potential symptoms include (1) a feeling of connection to nature, to one’s food, and to one’s hunter-gatherer ancestors, and (2) a re-calibration of one’s beliefs about hunting. Previous beliefs may suffer from atrophy, seizures, and even death, especially when an anti-hunter contracts AOH.

Knowing the early warning signs may protect you or a loved one from the worst effects. These early signs include:

  1. Excessive reading about the production of industrial food, especially factory meat.
  2. Esophageal spasms upon learning that the average pound of supermarket ground chuck contains meat from several dozen animals slaughtered in five different states.
  3. Sudden bouts of wondering why the local food co-op—with its cooler full of local, organic, free-range meats—doesn’t sell hunting licenses.
  4. Compulsive eating of “real food” purchased directly from farmers.
  5. Recurrent realizations that farmers are killing deer and woodchucks to keep organic greens on your plate.
  6. Impaired ability to find meaning in chicken nuggets or tofu dogs.
  7. Insistence on a literal reading of Woody Allen’s dictum “Nature is like an enormous restaurant.”
  8. An uncharacteristic compulsion to initiate dinner conversation about firearms.
  9. Impaired ability to see humans as separate from the rest of nature.
  10. Repeated contact with real, live hunters (experts suspect that AOH is highly contagious, though transmission mechanisms are not yet fully understood).

Early diagnosis is problematic, as other potential warning signs include interests in hiking, gardening, fishing, mushroom hunting, raising chickens, cooking, and eating. Even vegetarianism can be a precursor condition, particularly if your acupuncturist has recommended that you add animal protein to your diet.

Alarmingly, growing up in a non-hunting or anti-hunting family does not guarantee immunity.

Experts have begun searching for a genetic marker indicating a predisposition for AOH. Until an accurate test is available, researchers recommend following these guidelines:

  • If you or someone you know exhibits 0-3 of the above signs, the risk of adult-onset hunting may be low. You are urged to watch for further symptoms.
  • If 4-6 of the above signs are present, immediate action is required to prevent a full-blown case of AOH. Recommended precautions include (A) obstinate refusal to think about where one’s food comes from, especially any meat consumed, and (B) at least one-half hour per day of reading about how humans are, in fact, extraterrestrials.
  • If 7-10 of the above signs are exhibited, adult-onset hunting is already entrenched. Primary symptoms will begin to appear in a matter of weeks. Sign up for a hunter education course as soon as possible and find a hunter willing to show you the ropes.

There is no known cure.

© 2011 Tovar Cerulli


  1. Hoosierbuck says:

    A true cliche-if we weren’t meant to eat animals, they wouldn’t be made out of meat. Love the line about Daniel Boone stories. Was so true for me, and reading old Zane Grey books that belonged to my grandfather. Over 30 years later I remember a line about children growing up on the frontier hunting with small caliber muzzleloaders: “They were openly ashamed if they hit a squirrel anywhere but the head.”

    Think I will make a baked venison mostaciolli to celebrate being an AOH “victim”!


  2. Al Cambronne says:

    Excellent post! As one of the afflicted, I’m glad to know I’m in such good company. This appears to be a growing epidemic.

    Great insider info. Hence, today’s stock tip: Buy Cabela’s (CAB). Or, if you’re like me and have no money for that sort of thing, just stock your freezer with venison.

  3. Lieing wolf says:

    Would not our ancesters laugh our REDISCOVERY of …eating deer meat , ,,nature,,, raising and gathering your own supper. The belief there are lions in Vermont , even though not a single carcass, hair or scat , specific location or credible witness could be found. Disconnected! I’ll Say!

  4. Actually, Tovar, my disease is a recurrence of Childhood Onset Hunting Syndrome (COHS), much like Shingles is to Chicken Pox. The symptoms could be mistaken for AOH, if it weren’t for the fact that I have distinct memories of all of this, and the replication is full-blown, even to the type and number of implements I own.

    Thanks for explaining, though. It makes me feel reassured that there is no cure…You calling me crazy?

    Regards, Richard

  5. Tovar says:

    Thanks for the comments, folks. Glad you all got a kick out of the post. 🙂

    Yes, Richard, your diagnosis is somewhat different. The prognosis appears to be the same, though.

  6. Adhamhnain says:

    At last…. I have a name to give the condition that resurfaced in recent years. The driving need to get out there and put food on the table just takes over at the expense of everything else, until herself tells me to wise up…..
    An enjoyable read Tovar…….

    • Tovar says:

      Lest we take ourselves (or our edumacation) too seriously. 🙂

      A 12-Step Program for AOH? I’m not sure that would work, DEM, but you never know…

  7. doug thorburn says:

    Seems to be an epicentre here in the Kootenays! I am curious to see if the numbers of new hunters from the “alt” camp makes any difference to the slow decline in over-all hunting numbers.

    Epidemic in progress – I was just off for a week of skiing with a group of friends in the nearby mountains. As an appetizer, I brought along some very yummy venison Koulbasa. After one bite the four sets of feminine eyes swivelled towards their respective mates, “why don’t you get a gun and bring home stuff like this”.

    • Tovar says:

      Good grief, Doug! That is a particularly dangerous sub-type of Warning Sign Number 8: your mate initiating dinner conversation about firearms. Those guys are doomed.

      • doug thorburn says:

        ha ha! Of course I had to reply that women are every bit as capable as their burly mates when it comes to hunting. Four sets of husband eyes swivelled towards their charming mates, nodding in agreement.

        • Tovar says:

          Perfect! The more women in the field, the better. The husbands should have replied, “Why don’t YOU get a gun and bring home stuff like this.”

          • doug thorburn says:

            That is pretty much what transpired!

            However, I would add, while women seem equally capable at the mechanics of hunting is it fair to say that they are less susceptible to the obsessive compulsive quality of the sport? Men seem to have a greater capacity for willful blindness concerning all the boring things they should be doing, all the things that don’t generally include chasing animals with guns. I would be curious to hear from our female colleagues on this…

            • Tovar says:

              That’s an interesting point, Doug. Given our socialized gender roles, and the disproportionate household responsibilities often shouldered by women, I suspect you may be right.

              I’ve heard both men and women hunters talk about how hunting helps them get away from the everyday grind, allowing them to focus and be deeply present. I’ve also heard both talk about how hard it can be to concentrate on the hunt when the mind is ticking off the list of chores that are piling up at home. What I have not yet heard is a man talking about how it’s harder for him to stay focused than it is for his wife!

  8. As a recovering fisherman, hunter, and shootist, I am fearful that this relapse may be permanent! I should mention that I just downed four mini-pork chops from a tasty wild pig, slathered in olive oil and orange, and was drooling uncontrollably…another of the symptoms you may have inadvertently left off your list. My poor dog, he isn’t getting any of this!
    The sea bass and tuna have had a rest, but I really need to get back to them…after I go for Chukars a couple more weekends, as the season winds up. Seems they don’t taste like chicken. But my real problem is that I have filled the freezer, and there’s no more room for my prey, so I guess I’ll have to start eating fresh! That, I’ve heard, is the death knell for the addict, who will soon succumb completely to the predator within, and begin to look at potlatching ideas like massive barbecues to dispense of quantities of meat, just so the hunt can resume. Nasty pigs, anyway!

  9. Bill Scott says:

    Hey, I found my support group! Like Richard though, my affliction is a reoccurence of Childhood Onset Hunting Syndrome. Why, oh why, did I ever stop chasing bunny rabbits, quail and pheasants? I don’t know, but there are some fat little cottontails outside my house that had better beware!

    • Tovar says:

      Welcome, Bill! I’m not as familiar with recurrences of COHS. I imagine you and Richard can help identify similarities and differences with AOH.

  10. Dave Proulx says:


    First time visitor and I loved your post! I contracted the hunting disease early, probably around the age of 4 or 5 , but since no one in my family was a hunter, I didn’t start until I was old enough to hunt by myself at age 18. Now, some 30 plus years later, I’m glad to see that there is a new group of people who are discovering the appeal of hunting and who are bringing a fresh (no pun intended) perspective to the shooting sports.

    I hope that the growing number of AO hunters will help generate mainstream support for hunting as an ethical, enlightened approach to both local food procurement and a wise use of our natural resource. But enough time on my soapbox!

    I also loved reading Doug’s comment about the ski trip appetizer. Isn’t it great fun to watch the change in behavior as a group of non hunters tastes venison tenderloin, Canada goose kielbasa or pheasant cacciatore for the first time? All of a sudden, its not the knee jerk Disney discussion of killing Bambi or Donald Duck, but rather, Hey, this stuff is great, where do we get more!

    • Tovar says:

      Glad you enjoyed it, Dave! Do you have a sense of how you contracted the bug so young, without any hunting in your family?

      There are a lot of different perspectives on hunting, for sure, and mine isn’t necessarily better than the next guy or gal’s. But I do think you touch on an important point: AOHers, especially if they grew up in non-hunting families, often understand both the hunting and non-hunting worlds. Some of us were even anti-hunters at one stage. I think we have the potential to help bridge those different worlds, making hunting more comprehensible to the cultural mainstream.

  11. I think that COHS is hereditary, a definite genetic disorder rather than a communicated disease, but there are rare cases where it has leapt subspecies of humans. Being from the Hunter-Gatherer subtype with ADHD, and a definite learning disability when it comes to that Book Larnin,’ I am proposing that sometimes it seems to infect those in the City Slicker subtype that grew up in the Agricultural-Dependent urban hives. I was fortunate to grow up the son of another HG, who absolutely drove my AD nuts with his forays into the woods. Fortunately, my wife is a hybrid, having been both a foreign exchange student and a Girl Scout, the genetic hereditary factors seem to be muddled in her case. I do think, however, that in terms of epidemology, this may just be a genetic predisposition, and may lay dormant until contact is made with a key virus, often carried by wild game, which has been labeled the MEAT (Meat Eats Are Tasty) syndrome. In my case, though, it was through direct contact with another HG, in conjunction with being introduced to the wild MEAT, that turned me into the creature that enjoys howling at the moon with my dog. It was my career in the urban hive that led me to suppress these instincts for several decades, with a few wild hares every now and then. Fortunately, it does seem like I’m a terminal case, due to exposure at an early age. I hope this helps you to differntiate your diagnosis, and leads to resignation, that yes, there is no cure. You calling me unbalanced?

    • Bill Scott says:

      I think you are definitely on too something here with observations like these:

      “It was my career in the urban hive that led me to suppress these instincts for several decades, with a few wild hares every now and then.”

      Ditto here as well. Huge urban areas, like SoCal where I lived for many years, lead to suppression (but not elimination) of these instincts.

      These instincts were acquired early on as a child from a father who used to be a hunter; room to roam, especially with two large hunting dogs; and the acquisition of a bow and arrows. Along with this was the influence of living on a small farm with many chickens, ducks and geese. Raising and selling beef cattle was a source of pocket change and anything edible was fair game for the dinner table. I learned to kill, clean and grill my dinner early on.

      And today, well, as you observed thusly:

      “this may just be a genetic predisposition, and may lay dormant until contact is made with a key virus, often carried by wild game, which has been labeled the MEAT (Meat Eats Are Tasty) syndrome”

      Such as the land around my home that is lousy with quail and cottontails; the big Muledeer buck that nibbles on my Russian olives at night; the little desert river carpeted with a multitude of ducks at certain times of the year; the chukars that run across the road and dare you to catch ’em….well, a resevoir of viral contagion that vast and with exposure that frequent guarantees that a severe and uncurable case of AOH will result.

      That’s my story and I’m stikin’ to it!

      • Bill, send me an email @ richmellott (at) gmail (dot) com… it seems I need to visit your neck of the woods, and meet some of these charming creatures. We have to help each other, if we’re going to survive to spawn, right?
        Gosh, I’m getting my seasons mixed up…

  12. Dave Proulx says:

    I remember that as a 5 year old kid, while visiting cousins in North Carolina, I saw kids fishing in a pond and I begged my parents to take me. I caught a bluegill, and I was hooked! I also remember my mother’s cousin (in his 40’s at the time) visiting our house and talking about duck hunting. I was probably about 7 or 8 years old. From that moment on, I KNEW that I was going to be a duck hunter. Since my father was not a hunter or fisherman, he asked some of his friends for fishing advice. I had to learn about hunting on my own, so I didn’t start until 18 years old. I’m now enjoying my sons’ addiction take hold. My oldest son is 22 yrs old and an avid skeet shooter and occasional pheasant hunter, but my 18 year old is a RABID waterfowler. In fact, he works as a part time waterfowl guide in upstate NY while he’s in college. He hunted waterfowl 81 days this past season.

  13. Arthur says:

    This is such a great post, Tovar. So true, and you had me smiling and nodding the entire time I was reading.

    Oh…and I am completed afflicted with this incurable “disease”.

  14. Bricky says:

    In my specific strain of the disease, I have to add that being gifted with hunting implements (i.e. the passel of firearms my father has given me over the last couple of years) was one of the final symptoms before the “disease” manifested itself. I’d considered hunting in passing for years but I doubt I would have ever been able to make the jump to purchasing a rifle on my own. Maybe if you know someone who is infected with the virus a similar gift could cause them to develop full-blown AOH.

  15. I envy Bricky,
    I earned my guns by working for my father. He took my wages, and when I had enough for a gun, he’d go buy it. I got a .308, a 12gauge, and a .22wmr this way. Never saw a dime, but went hunting and fishing…surprised he didn’t charge a guide fee.

  16. Erik Jensen says:

    Very clever, funny post and so true. I don’t fit into the category, I have been a hunter since I was 14, and I’m 41 now. Very glad to see there is some AOH out there, although I’m focused mostly on youth (my kids and others) in my hunting and outdoor mentoring. Being a progressive urban person, I hope to see more of AOH, although I am fortunate to live in the very pro-hunting (but liberal) state of Minnesota, so there is less of a conflict between hunting culture and environmentally conscious urban foodie types. It certainly is an issue here, too, however, and the gap needs to be bridged. Great blog.

    • Tovar says:

      Thanks, Erik! National numbers actually indicate a full third of first-time hunters are 20 or older. It seems as though state wildlife agencies are increasingly interested in this population and their various reasons for taking to the field. I think AOHers can help bridge “the gap,” as you call it.

  17. Double D says:

    Just wanted to chime in with a “Great Post”. Am I naive thinking the foodie* movement is the salvation for hunting as we know it? (Not that I really believe hunters need salvation, but any help we can get is welcome.)


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  19. Erik Jensen says:

    Double D – the overall numbers of declining hunters are very disturbing (or, in even my state of Minnesota, where high participation in hunting continues, the average age is slowly but steadily climbing), so I think the “foodie” movement could be a big help. Also, it will make American hunting culture less insular and more progressive, more able to make alliances to preserve support for hunting and places to hunt and fish. So, I think the foodie movement is a big help.

  20. Dave Proulx says:

    Eric – I agree completely. We hunters cannot expect to retain our ability to hunt without reaching outside of our traditional group of supporters. If we remain insulated and apart from non hunting groups, we’ll eventually become invisible and therefore irrelevant when decisions about hunting are made by others in our society. As you posted above, getting your kids and mine to become hunters may be a fun and rewarding, but that alone is probably not enough to “get the job done”. Besides, bringing “foodies” into the mix means some great upgrades to future game dinners!!

  21. Tovar says:

    Thanks for the thoughts, Double D, Erik, and Dave!

    There are all kinds of folks paying attention to food and hunting these days. As you note, there are “foodies” (I abhor the moniker) obsessed with gourmet fare. Plus, there are locavores concerned about ecological footprint, conscientious meat-eaters who detest factory farming, etc, etc. Of course, the categories overlap.

    I do think that a more diverse population of hunters may mean a greater number of ambassadors who can effectively cross the hunting/non-hunting divide, encouraging the kind of visibility and alliances you mention above.

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