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The Founding Fathers Would Be Ashamed At How Few American Men Still Hunt

The early Americans thrived on the richness of the same land that modern Americans spend relatively little time exploring and cultivating.

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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in October 2023 released its latest report on recreational hunting and fishing. It revealed that only 9 percent of all American males ventured out into the woods to hunt wild game in 2022.

Several Founding Fathers saw outdoorsmanship as beneficial for society, and many were avid outdoorsmen themselves. During his time as a surveyor and farmer, George Washington spent much of his life in nature. Beginning around the age of 16, Washington especially enjoyed fox hunting, which Lord Fairfax introduced to him.

For many years, Washington kept a diary of his frequent hunting expeditions, and it shows his virtuous character. There were times during his hunts when he would corner a fox but then decide to spare its life. He wrote about the end of one hunt, “finding therefore that he was a conquered Fox, we took the Dogs off, and came home to Dinner.”

The decision to take the life of an animal to harvest food or clothing is not one to be taken lightly. Hunting is a practice of taking dominion over creation, but it is also an opportunity to exercise patience and restraint. As Gandolf instructs Bilbo in The Hobbit, “True courage is about knowing not when to take a life, but when to spare one.” Modern men are rarely placed in situations where they can exercise this kind of restraint and courage.

Thomas Jefferson was also an outdoorsman who regularly hunted small game and birds. He strongly advocated for sport shooting. He encouraged his nephew to regularly shoot guns because the practice “gives boldness, enterprise, and independence to the mind.” Jefferson described himself as “a great friend to the manly and healthy exercises of the gun.” Washington and Jefferson were among the most learned and affluent citizens of the American colonies, but their leisure activities were defined by the woods and farmland that they called home.

Learned Men Living on the Land

It is a deeply American idea that every individual should possess some degree of both learnedness and practical ability. In his “Information to Those Who Would Remove to America,” Benjamin Franklin says that, unlike their European contemporaries, the founding generation of Americans were both learned and capable. Americans worked the land and lived humbly but also devoted themselves to study and the arts.

That is not the case, however, in modern America. Only 2 percent of American families live on ranches or farms, and only 4 percent of Americans with graduate degrees set out on a hunting expedition in 2022. The well-rounded citizens of the early republic seem to have disappeared.

In modern America, the average man has few opportunities to engage in physical activities that develop the kind of character the founders believed was necessary for self-government. Americans too often view skills like carpentry, pottery, and welding as occupations for undereducated individuals and not as recreation for well-rounded citizens.

Building Manly Character

Hunting is an undervalued way to develop the manly character our Founding Fathers thought to be essential to our republic’s survival. The experience of braving less-than-ideal weather, sitting patiently in the woods, and calming your nerves as you set your sights on a trophy animal certainly builds character. Hunting also forces you to come face to face with the uncomfortable reality that your food comes from an animal’s death. In an economy where meat comes nicely packaged in plastic at the grocery store, there is a real lack of men who have both the practical know-how and the intestinal fortitude to hunt, butcher, and process meat.

In addition to building manly character, hunting allows the modern man to spend rare hours outdoors. The modern workforce spends the majority of their days at desks and on computers, which leaves little time for people to engage directly with nature regularly. With the convenience of modern grocery stores, there isn’t necessarily a practical need for men to wake up early on cold mornings and head to the woods with a rifle.

There is a serious need, however, for Americans to spend more time in nature. The majority of Americans spend an hour or less outside per day. All the while, America boasts myriad beautiful woodlands, mountains, and prairies that are home to an abundance of game animals. The early Americans thrived on the richness of the same land that modern Americans spend relatively little time exploring and cultivating.

American outdoorsmanship has a long history, dating back to our Founding Fathers and their love of nature. The love of the outdoors and hunting shaped leaders of the early republic, like Washington and Jefferson, as well as common citizens. American outdoorsmanship should not be a hobby only for the rural, high school-educated white male. The exercise of virtue and the attainment of practical skills make hunting a worthy hobby for all modern men to pursue.


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