Hunting in the Human Way
In order to understand hunting in the human way one must understand humanity's past and present and this will give insight to those who wonder about its future. In our modern day and age it is passionately debated as to whether hunting and killing are proper and useful components of human activity; therefore, to understand what is proper and useful we must understand whether we are herbivores or carnivores or something in the middle and then perhaps discern where all this is going and whether it's going in a desirable direction. Therefore it would be useful to make a scale with herbivores on one end and carnivores on the other and then try to place humanity somewhere on that scale. This idea of the scale is useful in understanding all sorts of natural phenomena. For instance, we could make up a scale that went from aquatic to terrestrial and then went from dolphins to seals to river otters and to wolves. In this case they are all predators with a different relationship to water. So with our herbivore to carnivore scale it will be useful to compare ourselves to other animals on this scale. So let's start with the herbivore end of the scale.
Starting with a deer we see of course, it is a mammal and its size is approximately that of the human being. However, it's eating habits are very different; it can survive very well on little more than grass and leaves whereas a human would eventually starve to death on such a diet. So when it comes to diet we are not on that end of the scale. Of course most naturalists would classify us as a primate and here we find a diet that we can literally sink our teeth into.
Comprised largely of fruits and berries it is a diet that we as humans could survive on. However, it is here with the primates that we find all sorts of interesting things beginning to happen and diet is just one of them. If we look back at the deer we will find that there are many species of deer but none of them eat insects or do any kind of hunting. However, with primates it's a very different story; many primate species will select fruit that is full of insects and worms to eat. This is a form of hunting and predation, in some species such as chimpanzees and baboons they will actually scavenge and even hunt other animals once in a while. So we find in primates that the difference between herbivore and carnivore is not like a light switch on or off but rather infinitesimal shades of gray.
Another behavior linked to diet and hunting that groups us with the primates is the ability to throw objects with power and accuracy. While many primate species can do this humans are truly in a class of their own. However, this ability is not just physical; it is an intellectual ability as well. For we as humans can collect rocks for their proper weight and size and then adjust our throw while calculating the trajectory with deadly accuracy. It is this behavior and ability that groups us with the primates and also begins to separate us from them.
The Spear: the Point of Separation
With the spear everything changed. Lions no longer hunted us; we hunted lions and animals as large as elephants were viewed as a food source. Indeed, we eventually went to sea and hunted whales with spears. Despite all this, we in the modern world often looked at the spear as nothing more than a simple crude device used in ancient times. However, if we look more closely at the spear we will see that it has very specific design criteria and that there are men living today that use it to feed their families. So if we look at the attributes of the most basic spear will find that it does not occur naturally; it has to be made. That requires a mind capable of using the spear and the tools necessary to make it.
Here are the basic attributes of the spear: it has to be as tall, perhaps a little taller than the man who uses it. It must also be very straight and strong and approximately the same diameter on both ends, otherwise it cannot be thrown or handled well. Another crucial attribute is the diameter of the shaft which must fit very well the hand of the man who owns it. Then there is the point which may be the wooden shaft that has been shaved to a fine point. And this will do; however, the point is usually made of a material that is as hard and sharp as one can obtain. Now with this understanding of what a spear is, let's try to visualize the difference it makes. We will start with visualizing a silhouette of two men: one with a spear and one without. If we show the silhouette of the man without a spear to a group of people the response would be somewhat ambivalent. However, if we show them the silhouette of the man carrying a spear their response would be quite different; the silhouette with the spear is a man with a purpose with the ability to defend himself and to attack. And so by viewing this in a silhouette we can see that humanity has literally changed shape and in a powerful and dynamic way. With this drastic change in shape came a dramatic change in our mind. Prior to this we were a humble creature that largely subsisted on fruits and berries sprinkled with a few bugs and a small lizard would have been considered big-game. But today few of us carry a spear; however, all of us still carry the thoughts and attitudes that went with it.
Fire, Power, and Magic
The power and magic of fire transformed the human way of hunting just as it transforms almost anything that it comes into contact with. And like the spear, the possession and control of fire changed our bodies and our thoughts in a very powerful way. Indeed these two technologies transformed us into a supernatural predator in the body of a primate. And by supernatural I mean just that - we had superior abilities yet we were still part of the natural environment. However, in modern urban culture these primal forces are not practiced or as well understood as they once were, yet they're still with us. For instance, you can go to a hunting camp where modern high-powered rifles with telescopic sights are being used to hunt with and a campfire is still literally central to the experience. So when we look at the power that the control of fire gives us, it is easy to see that no other creature on earth has it or anything like it.
With this power, this magic, a hunter could literally change the landscape to suit him. And while this is no longer done in the developed world, there are a few places were tribal cultures still practice this type of environmental manipulation. While there are many ways to manipulate the environment with fire we should look at a few of them so that we can understand how powerful this “magic” is. One of the more common ways that mankind manipulated the environment was to burn off grasslands. This promoted better growth in the seasons to come and it could concentrate the animals into other areas making it them easier to hunt. This was also done along rivers and streams where people would burn certain sections that were overgrown, giving the animals better access to the water and thereby increasing the efficiency of the human hunt. Then after manipulating the environment fire could manipulate matter itself. While the spear made meat more plentiful, it was fire that made it more edible and thereby more valuable. Therefore, the power and magic of fire literally fueled the predatory side of our nature.
Archery: the Cradle of Technology
One of the most interesting facts about archery is that almost every person alive today on this planet comes from a long line of successful archers. For countless generations archery has passed from one generation to the next, on every continent people used it to define themselves and their culture. And it has left a deep imprint on us - just pick up a longbow or recurve bow that has been strung and pull back the bow. Feel its strength and power; it's lightweight and I think you'll feel an emotional response that simply isn't there with other objects. We've been archers for a long time. With few exceptions we are the only animal that truly hunts with projectiles and while the first projectiles we used were rocks and spears, it is the bow and arrow that is the true cradle of our technology.
With archery, humanity dealt with orchestrating a technology that dealt in such things as tensile strength, compression, elasticity, gyroscopic stability, and aerodynamics. And then they sat around a campfire and crafted language that allowed them to discuss the inner reactions of these technologies and attributes in an efficient and useful manner, thus changing the attributes of the human mind and the human body. Another interesting fact about archery in today's world is that this technology has kept up with the times. If you look at a modern bow you will see something straight out of the space age - indeed, it may be the most refined technology on the planet. So when we look at a bow and arrow, whether it's ancient or modern, it has a beauty and techno-poetry unique in the world.