"You [Sarah Palin] enjoy killing animals. What you did is heart-stoppingly disgusting ... if I were picked to be the one to kill [an animal] in some kind of Lottery-from-Hell, I wouldn't do a little dance of joy while I was slicing the animal apart." (This is Aaron Sorkin in the Huffington Post reacting to the Caribou hunt on Sarah Palin's Alaska.)
Sarah Palin ain't the only one who dances on a hunt. Something flickers, and my head jerks left. I tense up on my deerstand. My eyes focus. These are predator eyes, quick to spot movement. And they face forward, like the lion, leopard, falcon, and wolf -- the better to stalk and ambush prey. The eyes on deer, rabbit, and caribou face from the side of their heads -- to detect and evade approaching predators (like Sarah Palin).
My pulse rate jumps, my senses quicken, and I'm jolted back into my primal role. The branch jerks again...again. Gotta be something big, I think. My pulse is really hammering now. Is that a flicking ear?...A black nose?...The sun glints off something...yes!-- An antler!
A jolt of adrenaline whacks me. This was vital for my ancestors. It kick-started them when they spotted the mastodon and fueled them while they ran it down and pummeled it with rocks and sticks. I've got it easier. I just aim and pull the trigger. But tell it to my nervous system. It's still in the early Paleolithic era. I grab the rifle from the branch and peer through the scope...the crosshairs shake spastically, along with my hands and shoulders and knees. Now the damn scope's fogging up from my gasps!...Can't see a damn...! Here, wipe it. There, it's clear...
But where's the deer?! He's walking off now! Now he's behind another bush!
Don't tell me I blew it! Did he wind me? No, don't think so. Wind's right, and I'm a good 25 feet in this massive Sweetgum. Ah, there's his neck and chest, through an opening in the brush. That's his ass.
Deep breath now. Steady...steady...brace the rifle against the tree. He'll be in that thicket with the next step. The crosshairs finally settle, smack on his neck. It's now or never...start squee-e-e-e-e-e-e...pe-toaww! The recoil almost knocks me outta the tree. I look through the scope again. He's down -- down!
My little dance was more like Bristol's than Sarah's. Sorkin would have fainted.
But how to explain this thrill to non-hunters? (Forget reasoning with an anti-hunter.) I'll take the easy route and toss the ball back in their court. "How can you not hunt?" I ask. Hunting's not a hobby. It's not a pastime -- it's an instinct. "Man's being consisted first of being a hunter," José Ortega y Gasset tells us.
"Man evolved as a hunter," says Chicago University anthropologist W.S. Laughlin. "He spent over 99 per cent of his species' history as a hunter, and he spread over the entire habitable globe as a hunter."
"For half a million years man has been the enemy of every mammal, including the largest." This from the book Man the Hunter, compiled at a science symposium at the University of Chicago in 1967. "The human notion that it is normal for animals to flee, the whole concept of animal being wild, is the result of man's habit of hunting."
"If we imagine our species to have disappeared in the Paleolithic era, the word man would lack meaning. We would have to call him hunter" (José Ortega y Gasset).
"The distinctive human brain evolved in consequence of predatory co-operative hunting" (W.S. Laughlin).
It's not nice to fool Mother Nature, Mr. Aaron Sorkin.
"How'd you get it out of your system so fast?" we hunters ask non-hunting friends. "How'd you shake it?"
I have a theory. The instinct's still down there somewhere for most people, but it's latent. The embers have cooled after millennia of inactivity. I specialize in rekindling them for friends. I hear of the poor saps mowing the lawn on weekends, grocery shopping, vegetating in front of the TV or computer, or -- worst of all -- plodding through a golf course. I hear these things and choke back the sobs. My rambunctious college buddies have mutated into slaves, drones, pansies, eunuchs, metrosexuals!
So I spring to the rescue. I take a golfing geek hunting. He wallops a high-flying mallard, and his eyes light up! Next week, he's clamoring to go again. A month later, he's selling his clubs for a shotgun. Then the cart for a boat. Fifteen patterns of camo soon crowd his closet. The embers have ignited into a raging inferno by now. By the end of his first season, he makes Ted Nugent look like Barney Frank.
Invariably, his wife, once tolerably civil, starts to loathe me. She addresses me exclusively in snarls and curses. She hangs up on me, erases my texts and e-mails. She becomes my bitter foe.
I can't blame her. Sure, her husband used to spend time at the golf course, but it was a harmless hobby. This hunting stuff, however, is a passion, an obsession. "That's all he talks about!" she wails. "I never see him anymore! He pays more attention to that stupid shotgun than to me! We can't go out anymore 'cause he's always gone on weekends...and that damn racket from that damn duckcall! Night and day!"
The ducks and deer now compete seriously for her time. She resents it. But this always fades. By Christmas she's smiling, thanking me. "Humberto! So nice to see you! Can I get you a beer? Hey, aren't y'all goin hunting this weekend again? Wonderful! Here, and in a nice frosty mug!"
Always happens this way. Her hubby's new passion brings her benefits in the boudoir, you see. Conquest afield is usually followed by conquest at home. He returns from the chase -- dirty, bedraggled, but always with a carnal gleam in his eye. It was so for our Paleolithic ancestors. It remains the case today. Ask around.
"That day in sunny Texas when the divorce rumors were rampant in the tabloids," writes Sarah Palin in Going Rogue, "I watched Todd, tanned and shirtless, take the baby from my arms and walk him back to the ranch house. Seeing Todd's blue eyes smiling, I chuckled. 'Dang,' I thought. 'Divorce Todd? Have you seen Todd?"
Apparently that gleam is not confined to the male hunters' eyes.