Centuries ago, a man was stalking a magnificent stag in the woods, skipping out on Good Friday prayer. The stag stopped and looked right at the hunter — the sort of moment that gets our blood pumping and our limbs shaking. Some call it buck fever. For Hubertus, it was a calling.
In the basket of the stag's glorious rack was a glowing crucifix. He heard a voice warning him to turn to God or face eternity in hell.
No doubt, any modern Catholic hunter who witnessed the same would replicate Hubert's decision to lay down his bow and convert his heart. Hubert eventually became Bishop of Leige and is now a saint, whose feast day we celebrate Nov. 3.
Calling all hunters to renounce all worldly possessions to be ordained to the priesthood is extreme, but calling upon sportsmen to an ecological conversion as stewards of God's creation is "is essential to a life of virtue," Pope Francis reminds us in Laudato Si. "(I)t is not an optional or a secondary aspect of Christian experience."
So as we enter the hunting seasons, here are a few ideas for our journey of Christian stewardship:
Commit to conservation
Excise taxes on sporting goods, license and permit fees, and a Missouri sales tax help fund conservation programs. As conservationists, we have an obligation to do more, whether it's financial support of a preferred conservation organization, grass-roots activities to protect access to our public lands, or the hand-dirtying work of habitat improvement. It also means responsibly sharing stories of successful conservation practices with friends, family and on social media.
Eat more meat
Go beyond the backstraps and breasts and honorably clean animals to prepare great meals from the whole beast. Oft-overlooked cuts and parts can make surprising dishes; bones can be made into rich stocks or "bonebroth," as hipster gourmands call it. For inspiration, check out Hank Shaw's website Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, on Twitter @Hank_Shaw, on Instgram HuntGatherCook; and Jeremiah Doughty's From Field to Plate, on Twitter @FromField2Plate and on Instagram at @fromfieldtoplate.
Share His bounty
Missouri hunters donated nearly 200,000 pounds of venison to Share the Harvest in 2016. The donated meat is distributed to food pantries around the state. In this way, your hunt becomes an active participation in wildlife management, prayerful presence in God's outdoors and a corporal work of charity. Challenge your hunting pals: the first deer of the season goes to charity. Visit the Share the Harvest website for details.
Take a new hunter
Bringing kids to the woods to participate in the lifecycle is great. It's a sort of catechism of creation, ecology and woodsmanship. And many adults are looking to disconnect from the grid and reconnect with nature. They're interested in organic food and self-reliance. Invite them with you, teach them the the joy of silence in creation, of watching nature, learning movement and migration patterns, the language of the animals and procuring food. Like our faith, the outdoors is best when two or more are gathered. See the Missouri Department of Conservation's Apprentice Hunter Program for how you might support a new hunter.
Be a Laudato Si conservationist
A century ago, when wildlife populations plummeted, hunters and fishermen joined the effort to regulate hunting and fishing through limits and seasons, and to fund restoration programs through taxes and permits. This is what is now known as the North American Model of Conservation, which is quite in line with Catholic teaching. (See a previous column, Stewardship of God's creation is integral to hunting, fishing.)
Many wildlife populations have rebounded, and modern-day threats to species survival aren't from recreational hunting and fishing. Clean water, clean air and abundant habitat are critical to all life. Outdoorsmen must be concerned about the environment and adjust practices to minimize our impact — whether that's carbon footprint, pollutants, or habitat degradation. Pope Francis' encyclical letter Laudato Si' compels us to take decisive action.
We must be more than hunters and fishermen. We're called to be conservationists, setting the example of what it means to "care for our common home," as Pope Francis put it, through a noticeable conversion as stewards of God's creation — just as St. Hubert converted his heart to God.
Phillips is the editor of the St. Louis Review and a radical conservationist. He and his family are members of St. Ambrose Parish. His occasional column, God's Outdoors, explores conservation and outdoor recreation through a Catholic scope. RELATED ARTICLE(S):Stewardship of God's creation is integral to hunting, fishing