Only a few generations ago, many Americans hunted out of necessity to feed their families. When the U.S. Army of the Confederacy surrendered to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant at the end of the Civil War, they were permitted to keep their firearms to be able to hunt. In fact, until just prior to the beginning of World War II, servicemen were allowed to purchase their rifles when they left the military so they would have a means to hunt when they returned home.
When I was young, I asked my grandfather one day how he was such a good shot with his rifle. He said, "Back when I was your age, if you missed what you were aiming at, you didn't eat."
In today's modern world, with supermarkets and restaurants on nearly every street corner, hunting may not be a necessity any longer, but it is still a tremendously popular pastime, especially here in Kern County.
For Amador Galvez, who has been an avid hunter for more than 40 years, hunting provides an escape from the rat race.
"What hunting does for me is put me in a whole different world," Galvez said. "You're in a place where nobody has access to you, no cell phones or meetings, and you start to wind down. All of the knots in your neck go away and you can just recharge."
It's a common theme with hunters, many of whom don't judge the success of hunt on whether or not they take home an animal.
"We never go to hunt in the same place twice, so it's always an adventure," said Mark Palomo, another veteran hunter of 40 years. "It's just a well-rounded experience."
Palomo first started hunting with his father as a boy, and he credits hunting for bringing the two closer together.
"One of the saddest days of my life was when he said he couldn't do it anymore," Palomo said. "That was 10 years ago. He's 90 now, and still pretty tough."
It's a pastime that often gets passed down from one generation to the next.
"Hunting, for my family, is about tradition," said Wayne Marden, avid hunter and range master at Ole Boy Outdoors. "My father is a hunter. He got me into it, and my son has followed in our footsteps, so it's a generational thing."
Palomo is also keeping the family tradition alive, and now hunts with his children.
"I used to take my daughter, and she enjoyed it. Now my son and I hunt," he said. "I always try to show them that not only are we out looking for an elk or deer, but that there are other things to see. And I get to teach them things like, 'this is how to build a fire,' and things like that."
Galvez also says that his regular hunting trips with his brothers help keep this family close.
"When we are there, we can talk about anything," Galvez said. "All the tension and stress is gone, and you just can't put a price on that kind of therapy."
And then, of course, there's the meat.
"The things we hunt, for the most part, just taste good," Marden said. "Venison tastes good. Quail tastes good. Dove, chucker -- they all taste good."
Galvez, who primarily hunts elk these days, raves about his wife's elk meatloaf, and he has also recently taken up hunting wild boar.
Some hunters also find sport in hunting predator animals. With civilization continually encroaching on formerly wild areas, predators such as coyotes and bobcats have become an increasing threat to ranchers and land owners, and limited hunting of some of these predators is allowed as a conservation measure.
Hunting-based organizations, such as the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, have purchased millions of acres of land for safe wintering grounds for elk and other game.
"Today we have more elk than we have ever had because of that kind of conservation," Palomo said.
The first step for anyone interested in getting involved in hunting is to complete the California Hunter Education Program. The 10-hour, state-mandated safety course is required before a hunting license can be purchased. After passing the course and purchasing a hunting license, you may be required to purchase additional tags or stamps depending on what you are planning to hunt.
"One thing I recommend folks do is find some locations where we have public access," Marden said. "A good thing about Kern County is that we are still surrounded by public land that we can hunt on."
Marden also recommends that people do some research before they head out to hunt. Call the Bureau of Land Management and ask about different areas, or take a drive out and talk to the rangers and game wardens.
And finally, go out there with realistic expectations.
"The true success of a hunt can not be measured in the pounds of meat that you bring home," Marden said. "It's the number of memories you bring home. And if you keep that in mind, you'll do well."
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