Love of the land, love of the hunt

Daniel Hammer has long loved hunting in the Owyhee Canyonlands. Now, the former cabinetmaker is a student in the Oregon State University-Cascades Natural Resources Program in Bend. Here, he shares how love of land and the hunt go hand in hand.

I grew up hunting and fishing east of the Cascades in Oregon and continually relish the wonderful places I’ve seen and experiences I’ve had. Never have I thought that there could be a state more diverse or magnificent than Oregon. I have also seen a lot of change over those four decades and it became very clear to me that we have a responsibility to protect as many unique and beautiful areas as we can. It was upon this revelation that I quit my career of 17 years and enrolled in college to do something about it. With a couple of degrees almost in hand, I intend to spend the rest of my life doing just that.

I particularly love hunting in the Owyhee because of its remoteness – there are fewer people and usually more animals. We go to the Owyhee twice annually. It’s wonderful in the winter. Most of our winter trips seem to be in subzero weather. So we quickly learned some tricks for camping in these conditions, like putting a sleeping bag inside of a sleeping bag. I’ve found that roughing it in adverse conditions usually makes the experience even more memorable and we tend to look forward to the winter trips the most. It’s very rare that you see anybody during that time of year and the wildlife seems to be in a different element.

A few years ago we were camped on the rim, not too far from Three Forks, for an antelope hunt. I had harvested a beautiful buck that day and we had him all cleaned and stowed away in the cooler. The evening was ours to enjoy some great food and kick back in the lawn chairs listening to camp stories and the sounds of nature. We were actually laughing and making a lot of noise when suddenly my buddy said, “Look, bobcat!”

We all shifted our attention to the rim about 50 feet from us. A bobcat was peering over the rocks at us. Then another head popped up: a kitten. Two more kittens soon popped their heads up and we all had a moment of awe staring at each other. What followed was even more surprising. Momma bobcat then led her kittens up over the rim toward us without a care in the world. They started mousing in the grass within 30 feet of us before slowly hunting their way to our right and off into the twilight. It was truly a magical moment. It’s not very often that you get to see predatory animals that have no fear of humans. I feel fortunate to have witnessed such a phenomenon and will never forget the innocence of that interaction.

Someone did get a picture of that moment, but by the time it got to my computer it was too pixilated to post. Too bad.

An avid hunter is intimately linked to the landscape in ways that some folks may not realize. Hunting is much more than the harvest of game. It is about being in the great outdoors, spending time with friends and family, and discovering beautiful places while learning about nature and ourselves. Yes, the moment that you pull the trigger or release the arrow is exhilarating, but it doesn’t happen every time and there are no guarantees. So the hunter, between these scarce opportunities, becomes a naturalist. Not to mention a biologist, botanist, camp ergonomist, chef, conservationist, cosmologist, ecologist, inventor, jury rigger, meditator, meteorologist, philosopher, photographer, prankster, raconteur, and singer-lyricist. I am all of these except maybe the chef!

The hunter has a knowledge and wisdom that makes him/her a valuable stakeholder in how to manage the landscape. Think of the Native Americans and the local knowledge that they have carried for thousands of years; the more time you spend out there the better you understand the ecosystem. I try to live and behave in the backcountry like the indigenous peoples did, taking care to minimize the effects of my presence and understanding the importance of appreciating what I take and using it fully. Nutritionally, nothing could be better than the chemical free, open range gift of wild meat harvested humanely, and meticulously taken from field to freezer to table. However hunting, for me, is mostly just an excuse to get outside, breathe clean air, hear the sounds of nature, and explore the wonders of Oregon.

— Daniel Hammer