" … All the things you miss when moving at hiking speed seemed to jump out at you. … ..."
I've seen hunters moving through the woods very slowly and can wait patiently for hours, enhanced in their senses taking in every atom of sound, smell, sight, movement, etc., of their surroundings. Certainly, the hunting process requires a lot of time with patience in the wilderness, a heightened awareness of one's outdoor surroundings, considerable knowledge of the quarry as well as the forest and other animals that live in the forest, and one is likely privy to the kind of close encounters of animals that you can't get in other outdoor activities, maybe including hiking.
As a fairly keen hiker myself, I may be over-reacting and defensive at Asha Swem's article. But, I got the sense that, for Swem, a hiker sees, thinks and feels less or nothing, or very little, of the wilderness compared to a hunter. I have never attended a hunt in the US (just part of a trek many years ago with my uncle, who hunted for big animals in east Africa). So, I'm sure the hunter sees and experiences animals and the forest sometimes more and differently from hikers. But, I still felt Swem's article kind of dismissed hiking as a very passive, non observant activity.
I don't know what kind of hiking or hiking terrain and camping Asha Swem did. Depending on the kind of day hikes and overnight hikes, however, one can be just as alone in the wilderness and observe a lot of wildlife and vegetation and see the most incredible views. I do a lot of elevation day hiking. I can encounter lots of small animals. Also big ones and can sometimes recognise their tracks, droppings and other markings. I've had a lone coyote with me for nearly an hour, seen moose and lots of Whitetail (I see deer close up on a regular basis anyway). I know black bear are around, but have not seen them while hiking (more reported encounters in my neighbourhood). A good hiker will also learn and practice survival skills for hiking and getting lost. S/he can join a hiking club. Membership money can help for land acquisition and trail conservation, e.g. A club can also offer day classes, group hikes and camps where you learn about conservation of forest and trails, basic survival and forest safety skills, about hiking gear, indigenous animal behaviour (though likely not as in depth as hunter knowledge, unless the hiker is interested in such) and how to keep oneself safe. You learn this also from good hiking books and journals and putting tips into practice. Also, some clubs point you to other camps that offer other activities that include archery, shooting, fishing, animal tracking, and survival and knowledge skills that can be used for hiking, as well as do group hikes.
Certainly, anti-hunters and non-hunters may not realise that hunting is much more than killing an animal. But, it could be pointed out that some hunter skills and I think many of their outdoor experiences can be had outside of actual hunting activities. Hunting doesn't have the monopoly on getting up early in the morning (I'm up at 4 a.m. every week day as it is), being alone with nature, observing animals and changes in vegetation, abrupt weather changes, aloneness or brother-/sisterhood, etc. I mention hiking because the author claims to have hiked and camped, but writes like she is a very passive hiker. Again, maybe I'm over-reacting and wanting to defend one of my interests. I find it hard to believe that as she hiked, regardless of hiking speed, she missed how cold the wind was, the smell of freshness, the small rodents, or that she missed the views and the opportunity to stop and observe larger wildlife and take in the great magic of the outdoors. The purpose of hiking is not so much to look for animals, and hikers take existing trails and don't lie in wait, so the knowledge and experiences will differ and we may participate differently in the biological dramas of nature's life-death-decomposition-renewal cycle, but we often do read and think of the animals, are careful of our hiking steps to avoid their habitat and food destruction, and we do see plants and animals or evidence of them. No doubt, however, there are ill-prepared, non-observant and even slob hikers, and maybe Swem is one of them. Real hiking, which can also, like hunting, take hours even days, takes a lot of thought and preparation (and sometimes layers in clothing, as well!) and lots of time. In real hiking, for safety and pleasure and for the continued future of hiking, every step absolutely counts and should be appreciated. Hiking, like hunting, and other serious outdoors activity (veggie gardening, birding, kayaking, skiing, snowshoing, etc., etc.), can also make one a better steward, a better citizen and a better person. But, I agree that hunting is more than just killing animals and I can respect hunters as skilled and knowledgeable, restorers and protectors of wildlife and the outdoors that, and I can appreciate that in some instances it is perhaps because of hunters and hunting, I too can enjoy my hiking.
Hi Reeves. Thanks as always for your thoughtful input. I think perhaps what she is trying to say is that there is something special about hunting and the effect it has on the senses. As any hunter can attest, there is something about hunting that seems to amplify the senses. You seem to see every slight movement. You seem to smell every faint scent. You seem to hear every little noise. You seem to feel every puff of breeze. I've done a lot of hiking, as well as hunting, in my time, and when I hike, I'm pretty observant and take in lots of things. But, at least for me, it doesn't compare to the kind of sensual high gear experienced in hunting. When I was in college all wildlife biology and forestry students had to go to a summer field camp for field work. You had to be quite observant in the woods as recording such observations were required for the class. Even then, when it was imperative to be consciously observant, it didn't compare to hunting. I would imagine that the senses being so attuned while hunting is a function of evolutionary biology. After all, for our ancestors, success or failure at hunting could very well be a matter of life and death.