By Don Mallicoat- As a hunter, do you have traditions that are part of your game harvest? A recent trip to Germany to visit family reminded me of their long established traditions. Wish time would have allowed me to hunt while there. But being with family was more important and it’s really not the prime time for hunting anyway. It was good to remember my experiences from 25 years past.
Now I’m not one into fist pumps or chest bumps between friends as a way of celebrating the harvest. Guess that’s one reason I don’t watch hunting shows on TV. Seems like that, followed by a “money shot” pose with the game, is the norm. Yeah, I know you’re excited because all your effort has paid off. Not saying it’s wrong. It’s just not me. It’s focused on the hunter, not the hunted. But is it really a way of honoring the life you just took? Guess I like the old German traditions.
You earn your German hunting license, Jagdschein, you don’t get it. It’s not a matter of walking into your local sports retailer with a Hunter education card and buying a license. You have to go through a hunter education process that not only includes safety but also game identification, and discussion of all aspects of the hunt. It also includes weapons proficiency training in both rifle and shotgun. There is also traditional hunter dress. No camo clothing in Deutschland! Hunters dress in forest green clothing. There are a lot of traditions associated with hunting in Germany one of which includes a rather elaborate ceremony when the Jagdshein is presented.
I experienced several of these but my most cherished is called The Last Bite, Letzter Bissen. When a hunter harvests a large game animal there is a simple ceremony at the site of the kill. The hunter breaks off a small evergreen branch and puts it in the mouth of the animal to symbolize the last bite. The guide, or Jagermeister, breaks off a small branch from the same tree, wipes it in the animal’s blood, and sticks it in the hunter’s hat band. He then shakes his hand and says “Weidmansheil” (hunter congratulations) and the hunter responds “Weidmansdank” (hunter thanks). It is the hunters honoring the life of the animal just taken.
On a small game hunt for pheasant and rabbit at the end of the hunt the game is laid out in a certain order of importance, hunters gather in a semi-circle behind the animals, and hunting horns are sounded to signify a successful hunt. How’s that for tradition?
Part of me kinda wishes we would inherit some of these traditions here in the United States. Hunter recruitment is down and making someone go through a lengthy hunter training program will make it even worse. I get it. But isn’t there more to becoming a hunter than just attending a six hour hunter safety course? I teach the course. Believe me, we’re not building future hunters who understand the game they pursue and their habitat needs. We’re simply checking a block to meet a regulatory requirement. Don’t we owe it to the future of our sport to build knowledgeable hunters?
Our system of traditions in the past was built on the family unit. Grandfathers, fathers, and uncles took a young person under their wing when the time was right. They were not only taught gun safety, but also the lost art of woodsmanship (spell check doesn’t even recognize the word). Traditions included sitting around a campfire after the hunt talking about the details of the day’s harvest which leads to stories of past hunts. Or sitting on the tailgate of a truck after a successful upland hunt stroking the feathers of the bird and reliving the excitement of the point and flush of that and past hunts.
Nope, now hunting in America is an event. We ride to the field in ATVs, use GPS to find our location, play video games on our phones waiting, shoot the game and go home. We have forgotten that a wild animal has given its life so that we may live. Maybe re-establishing those traditions is just the shot in the arm hunting we need to recruit new hunters. It is a way to connect with the way of nature. Weidmansdank.