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The Practicalities of Hunting

The ‘To Wit’ column in the May 2005 issue of Anthropology News is fantastic. Titled ‘Hunting Squirrels in College Land,’ author and archaeologist John Whittaker outlines the challenges students faced when asked to shoot squirrels around campus with a rubber band as their weapon, and then to write an essay about the experience. Whittaker designed the (mock) exercise after years of teaching students without any idea about the practicalities of hunting for a living. Whittaker writes:

I have so many students who haven’t even eaten so much as a chicken wing recently that even explaining basic anatomy can be a problem. I wanted my Archaeological Field Methods class at Grinnell College to consider the complex interactions of technology, human knowledge and skill, and animal behavior, things that would be daily topics of thought and conversation [in a hunting society.]

With his tongue buried in his cheek, Whittaker describes students ‘out hunting’ who are frustrated by the wind, lack marksmanship skills, have to learn how to stalk, learn that rubber bands can not provide enough force to come close to even injuring a squirrel, and face protestors angry at their activities.

All kidding aside, the piece explores nicely the challenges of hunting anywhere, for anyone, with any weapon, and after any prey. I face problems similar to that which Whittaker describes when I teach the complexities of hunting moose or caribou and why hunting continues to be an important and extremely meaningful activity for native people in northern British Columbia. Perhaps I will have them read Whittaker’s piece, along with the other ethnographic accounts of hunting I already use by Ridington and Brody. I hope then that they will get the point that hunting requires skills, knowledge, luck, as well as the proper tools without having to complete this assignment!

Note: Anthropology News is the newsletter of the American Anthropological Association.

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