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The Stoic Hunter

Stoicism is a grounded thinking with wisdom that can elevate how you hunt. 

Day one of philosophy class goes something like this, “You are all philosophers, you just don’t know it yet.”  Philosophy at its base is an understanding of life.  Thoughts become principles which guide actions and become years of practice. 

We are a part of nature.

The founding father of Stoicism Zeno said that peace and tranquility in life came from “living in agreement with nature.” Everything holds a specific role with the orderly and rational system, like cells in a larger organism.  Each part works in concert and when they do so perfectly, there is harmony and peace.  The highest good a man can achieve, Summum Bonum, is when this is accepted and practiced. 

This idea that nature is rational lends itself that a good and ordered understanding of where we are and how we fit into it as hunters is crucial.  As understanding of how each component of the forest works (trees, plants, lichen, mushrooms, soil, bedrock, squirrels, elk, and more) the interconnectedness is revealed.  Biologists know this well; if one variable in management is tinkered with there will be some unexpected impact elsewhere.  For those of us who are hunting, we increase our prowess when we know that a certain plant grows in a specific soil on one side of that mountain in this ecosystem and that our quarry favors that plant for food. This rationality of nature is how naturalists began their studies and grew them into a web of knowledge of nearly everything in their areas of study. 

Learn to live with that which you cannot control.

This principle is called the Dichotomy of Control and simply put, teaches us to recognize what is and is not in our own direct control.  These are mainly our thoughts, emotions, and the actions that flow from both.  We cannot control what happens around us to a great extent, but we can focus on our response to it.  Epictetus said it this way, “There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power of our will.”  Those of us with a strong sense of justice (like myself) will resist this and want to change or influence outcomes.  However, this is often a fruitless exercise.

Afield, it is easy to see this one play out.  Either the fish were not biting or the turkeys did not like your calling.  Your thoughts wonder what could have been done differently, emotions range from anger to confusion to defeat, and your action is to pick up and go home.  The crux of this is knowing that you have limited time and energy and to be successful can only devote it to that which will increase the likelihood of achieving your outcome.  Strength put into breaking your rod over your knee in frustration robs the next cast of both equipment and the motion into casting.  An outburst of angry yell satiates the immediate context, but startles the other bird that was creeping in and you didn’t see and stealing another shot from yourself. 

There are toxic emotions to avoid.

The emotions that damage yourself and ultimately others are anger, anxiety, envy, and fear.  The approach of Stoics is not to crush these feelings within yourself, but to better understand their impact on your actions and mitigate their negative effects.  Anger unbridled becomes devastating in a debate, but when justice directs it becomes the fuel that brings about meaningful change.  The Four Cardinal Virtues wisdom, courage, justice, and temperance are the processes that turn these emotions into tools.  They help you to harness your reactions and bring you towards that Summum Bonum.

Hunting elicits the most primal of emotions since it is our earliest activity. How you respond in a moment can define how the rest of a trip is remembered.  Hunting is often a thousand failures before the first success and if emotion encourages you to quit at any point then there will never be the arrival of the kill. It takes courage to crack on with failures piling up behind you.  It takes temperance to know when you ought to wait and be patient instead of charging in.  You don’t have to be devoid of emotion (the adjective stoic with little “s”), only don’t allow them to control your next steps. 

You will never be a finished product.

At first read, this might be a despondent notion, but it should instead be inspiring.  We ought to want to be the best hunter we can, but defining that often comes from ideals and images outside of ourselves.  Epictetus again with wisdom speaks, “When someone is properly grounded in life, they shouldn’t have to look outside themselves for approval.”   The Stoic pillar of life as an annoying progress ignores the idea of perfection at the end and focuses on how we might be better today than we were yesterday.  That measure then is always yourself.

There is always something more to learn or a method to refine.  I make a note after every hunt of what I could do next time that would make me better.  This relentless pursuit of betterment, not perfection, creates an attitude which steels you for the difficulties that always come with life.  

Do your own thinking.

There are more great quotes that could be incorporated into your hunting like Marcus Aurelias’ “Learn to be indifferent to what makes no difference” and Seneca’s “To bear trials with a calm mind robs misfortune of its strength and burden.”  A deeper dive into the pillars of Stoicism will help you see how these thinkers arrived at these points and discover your own.

Disclaimer: These summary statements are just a part of the larger Stoic philosophy.  Start learning more at:

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