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Q&A with Lily Raff McCaulou

B: And did it?
LRM: To hunt, I have to immerse myself in the landscape. There’s no room for talking or daydreaming. I scan the ground for animal scat or tracks. I listen for snapping twigs or f lapping wings. I feel which direction the wind is blowing. I identify the plants around me and notice if their stalks have been nibbled or their roots burrowed under. Hunting requires fluency in an ecosystem— something that is increasingly rare in our modern lives. It connects us to our ancestors because it gives us a window into what humans used to have to do to stay alive. And because hunting roots us to the land and to the wildlife, it gives us a great reason for conservation.

B: In April, the New York Times ran your op-ed piece, “I Hunt, but the NRA Isn’t for Me.” What kind of reaction did you get?
LRM: Hundreds of people emailed or posted comments on my blog. It wasn’t a total surprise—guns seem to be the most divisive issue related to hunting. Most of the people who emailed me were actually hunters who thanked me for speaking up. There are a lot of hunters like me, people who own guns but don’t feel that the National Rif le Association, with its extreme lobbying positions, represents our point of view. Of course, I got some really nasty letters, too. I try to have a thick skin, but nobody enjoys hate mail.

B: What do you come away with from being outdoors—does the experience vary, depending on what you’re doing?
LRM: If I go for a hike or a jog, my mind usually wanders. I think about things I need to do around the house, stuff that’s happening at work. When I’m hunting or fishing—or, to a lesser degree, foraging— I have to be fully present and in the moment. I’m focused on using my senses, on reading and reacting to my surroundings.

One challenge of hunting is to achieve this perfect state, a place between calm and alertness. If you’re too alert, you get jumpy. It’s exhausting and you can’t keep it up all day. If you’re too laid back, you miss the signs and can’t find an animal or get a shot off in time. There’s a sweet spot in there, but it takes a lot of practice.

B: I believe the number of hunters is on the decline, at least in California. Do you think the locavore movement is changing attitudes, something like the back-to-the-land movement of the ’60s and ’70s?
LRM: Nationwide, the number of hunters has been going down for decades. There is a group of adults who, like me, are bucking that trend by learning to hunt. So far, I don’t think we are numerous enough to stop the overall decline.

Some of my own reasons for learning to hunt do align with the locavore movement and its predecessor, the back-to-the-land movement. Hunting isn’t necessarily that different from, say, keeping backyard chickens, planting a garden or taking a butchery class. All are paths toward selfsufficiency, better understanding where our food comes from and procuring meat from animals that weren’t tortured in a factory farm or flown halfway across the world.

B: Did you try to teach Sylvia to hunt with you?
LRM: By the time I got serious about hunting, Sylvia was four years old; she was extremely gun shy and had never touched a bird. Experts say you need to start training a hunting dog in puppyhood, correct gun-shyness immediately and get a dog into birds his or her first autumn. So Sylvia had a lot of strikes against her in that regard.

I did save the wings from some birds that I shot and used them to try to teach Sylvia to track a bird’s scent. I would drag a wing around the backyard and hide it behind a shrub. Then I’d let her into the yard and tell her to find the bird. This sounds odd, but she was very reluctant to use her sense of smell. Excited by the tone of my voice, she would just look all over the place. I gave up pretty quickly.

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