Hopefully I’m wrong, but it feels as though the generalist hunter is a dying breed. I’m talking about the sorts of hunters who are up for any kind of adventure, regardless of whether it involves a fashionable and trophy-worthy quarry. These are the kinds of hunters I grew up around. In a typical hunting season we chased just about everything: squirrels, cottontails, ruffed grouse, woodcock, a variety of ducks, Canada geese, and whitetail deer. That’s in addition to perhaps a dozen species of fish that we routinely targeted. There was always something new going on, and it was a blast.
Compare that to your modern-day specialists, who only pursue one particular critter throughout the year. Sure, they might develop a nuanced understanding of their quarry, such as elk or whitetail deer, that might not be achieved by a generalist. But still, I’d argue that a generalist gains a broader understanding of his or her environment and a much more rounded, pragmatic skill set than a specialist does. What’s more, a generalist hunter is better equipped to withstand the ebbs and flows of the natural world. Radical shifts in one’s hunting landscape–climatic changes, disease outbreaks, major regulation changes, loss of hunting permissions–are less likely to derail a generalist. He’s going to quickly adapt and keep the freezer well stocked because he’s got the know-how and mindset necessary to switch gears.
On the upcoming Kentucky episode of MeatEater, you’re going to meet a friend of mine who has mastered the generalist approach to hunting. His name is Kevin Murphy, and he lives near Paducah, Kentucky. We met four or five years ago. From our first conversation, I knew that this guy had more wildlife and hunting knowledge floating around in his brain than you’d get by combining the wisdom of three or four specialists. He could talk squirrels. He could talk ducks. He could talk whitetails, bobcats, otters, quail, crayfish and swamp rabbits. What’s more, he could talk beech trees, acorns, duck weed, water quality, photo periods, landscape history, and migratory flyways. After basking in his wisdom for just thirty of forty minutes, I knew that I had to have him on an episode or two of MeatEater so that our viewers could get to know him. If you take the time to watch, you’ll meet a guy who exemplifies everything I love about hunting and hunters. He’s a student of the woods. He’s funny, generous, energetic, and damn sure eats what he kills. He’s a generalist, and he’s got a lot to show you.
Tune in this Thursday at 8pm ET on The Sportsman Channel, and if you don’t have access to the show there, we’ll be posting the show at 8:30pm ET at http://meateater.vhx.tv.