‘Imagine for a moment a stiff chill in the air. It’s an early autumn morning. You barely breathe and still a waft of condensation glides away from your nostrils. There’s a rustle in the leaves, and your friend lightly taps you on the shoulder pointing to a group of trees just up the hill. You both crouch down. He pulls out the ammunition, and you sling the heavy rifle forward from behind your back. He loads the magazine slowly and steadily, each round smoothly falling into place as the next bullet is fitted in, silently but with a barely audible click that seems to be a type of primitive music. Your eyes are wide open and there’s not a single shade of green, brown, red, and gray that escapes your sight. Your friend hands you the magazine and you carefully push it into the rifle and press, waiting for the click. The rifle seems to rise in the air as the butt is squared away into your shoulder and the sights line up. Suddenly the deer, a buck, stands out from the group of trees and you breathe. In, out, and fire!’
A moment like this can define so much of our life and provide an instance to learn more about ourselves and others. Hunting and shooting are chances for not only individual men to hone their skills, but also to join with other men in the spirit of camaraderie. And, in a day when young men more often choose to spend time playing video games or surfing the web, it is a way to experience a true bond of friendship that is forged in patience and sacrifice.
Certainly, hunting and shooting aren’t the only activities that bring young men together, but they are part of a wider circle of adventures that grow the spirit, shape character, and build manly virtues. Think for instance of your friends and family. When I think of mine, I find that those who seek after the excitement and difficulty of a long mountain trek or an early morning hunting trip are the folks I want to spend time with. They’re full of stories, good advice, and they see the world clearly- three things that any man needs, no matter what he does in life.
But, hunting and shooting also give young men the occasion to form healthy and masculine friendships that aren’t based on utility or silly pleasure seeking, but on true nobility of spirit. Any young man should in some sense admire his friends and should see in them a virtue that he aspires to. In so doing, he wants to elicit their virtues and help them grow, just as much as he wants to see himself mature into a man who is ready for his duty to God, country, and family.
Young men today need friendships that cultivate the virtues and seek after the good no matter where it is to be found. Groups such as the Boy Scouts of America provide a setting for this, as they encourage a sense of civic duty, honor, and outdoorsmanship. The last of which, while not entirely essential, is certainly very important. For, being ready and able to engage with the world whether through hiking, camping, hunting or shooting, is a capacity that is learned with friends as a manly virtue, one that fortifies the soul, enriches the mind, and strengthens the body. And this carries over into all aspects of life.
As young men today are beset by lethargy and self-centeredness, we should all seek to foster an appreciation for wilderness activities- such as hunting and shooting- which teach young men not merely the skills they need to shoot and camp, but the virtues they need to be good citizens, friends, sons, and husbands.