Why Hunting?

Mitchell Shirk
Mitchell Shirk

Have you ever stopped yourself long enough to ask, why? Why do I love hunting
so much? I’ve tried to answer that question for the last few years, and yet every
time I begin to formulate an answer, I ask again… why? As long as I can
remember, hunting has been at the forefront of my mind and high on my priority

Last year I pursued a goal I’ve had stored away as a dream in my mind – kill a bear
with my bow. To be more specific, I especially want to accomplish this in my
home state of Pennsylvania. However, when the state of New Jersey announced
they would re-open a bear season for the first time since 2018, I jumped at that
opportunity. Most would not think of New Jersey as a premiere hunting
destination. But if the information I’d been told was true, New Jersey has one of
the highest black bear densities throughout the country.

Besides the two days I spent in firearms season the previous year, I’d never
stepped foot in New Jersey to acclimate and prepare for a hunt. I began
networking with anyone willing to share bear information. That narrowed me to
three blocks of public land. I began to scout in the summer with maps and took
my first scouting trip on Labor Day weekend.

I’ve hunted bear in PA since I’m 12 years old and have been fortunate to harvest
two bears. However, I still would not consider myself a “bear hunter”. At first,
scouting was fairly intimidating. In my mind, if it was anything like my PA
experiences of trying to shoot one with a bow, I’d be chasing a shot in the dark.
But on my very first scouting trip, I saw four bears and sign like never before! I
hung a few cameras, placed a few pins on my scouting maps, and decided to
check back in closer to the season.

The following scouting trips did not let me down. In the coming weeks I found
heavily used bear trails, scat, and had tons of intel from my trail cameras. One
camera in particular had at least nine different bears within 24 hours of placing it,
and most were in daylight! During a six-week period leading to the opening day
of the season, I raced through a series of thoughts and emotions; skepticism,
plausible, probable, confident, and the worst… overconfident.

Monday, October 9th was opening day of archery bear season. I was hunting with
my relative and hunting partner, Mark. We had prepped treestand locations the
week prior and were settled in before daylight. As the sun began to rise, I really
thought it was not a matter of if, but when was I going to shoot my first bear with
a bow. However, reality set in quickly.

I had sat until almost noon and saw a sow with four cubs. In New Jersey, you
cannot legally harvest a bear weighing less than 75 pounds, or a sow
accompanied by cubs weighing less than 75 pounds. This put them off limits, and
since they did not come within bow range, I never had to face the temptation.
Mark on the other hand was in a constant state of action. At the end of the
morning he had seen nine different bears, choosing to pass the shot opportunities
in search of some of the larger bears we had on our cameras.

I left the stand in disappointment. Even though we had a great morning, we also
experienced a decent amount of hunting pressure. Another issue negatively
impacting my hunt was the wind direction; it was nearly 180 degrees opposite of
the forecast. I began to over think everything. Do I need to move stand
locations? Will this added hunting pressure turn bear activity nocturnal?
Even though this is all part of hunting, I was abnormally discouraged due to one
major issue – a lack of time. I had six PTO days remaining for the year, and I was
hopeful I could save time for deer hunting in PA. Adjusting from the change of
wind and morning hunting pressure, I scouted my way into a tree for the evening
sit. I was indecisive when choosing my tree for a multitude of reasons. Once I
settled into position, I maintained my poor attitude.

As the evening hunt progressed, I began thinking about home. My wonderful
wife was making accommodations and sacrificing things for me to be here. My
mom watched our two boys abnormally longer to allow my wife to finish her work
day. My boys were asking about Daddy’s bear hunt, cheering me on, yet asking if
I was coming home soon. My dad helped them while I was gone, and he also
sacrificed a lot of time and energy helping us out earlier in the year on some
house renovations.

I finally broke down, sobbing in my treestand. “What is wrong with me?!”
screamed in my head. I was being utterly selfish. I was disgusted that I had not
filled my tag quickly enough to return home and save time off work to hunt deer

later in the season, resulting in more selfish behavior. I saw 5 bears in the
morning, and another sow with four cubs while on stand that evening. How many
people get to see 10 bears in a single day of bear hunting in their lifetime?
I began to talk with God. I started by pouring my heart out about life the last few
months leading to that moment. Then it led to confessing and asking for
forgiveness. I sent a text message to my mom, dad, and wife, thanking them for
their love and support. I let them know how much I appreciate them, knowing
that while I’m doing what I love, they bear the weight of daily burden in my
absence. Then I started asking myself once again… why?

I could list a plethora of bullet points with reasons why I hunt – many of which
would be in a positive light. One point which is overwhelmingly obvious after
sharing this experience, I enjoy hunting for adventure and a trophy game animal.
Is that wrong? My gut tells me no. However, there undoubtedly is a fine line that
when stepped over becomes inherently hideous. Selfishness, greed, pride; all
things sinful that pulled me away from Jesus while idolizing my own self-interests.
Obviously, I still have a lot to learn from our Savior in the paths of wisdom.
I had to leave the next day after our morning hunt in order to be home for my
family schedule. I can’t say I went home absolutely content; however, I was able
to reevaluate a lot about my goals and expectations. My original goal was to try
to harvest a bear with the bow, and I decided I wanted to continue pursuing that
journey regardless of the outcome. I wanted to learn more about bear hunting,
enjoy the process, and give 100% of the increase to the Father, Son, and Holy

I returned Thursday morning with Mark and two other hunting friends, Mike and
Jason. Thursday was the first day firearm hunters could hunt with a
muzzleloader. At 8 am, Jason connected on a 150 lb male bear. He also saw
three other bears while on stand that morning. Mid-morning, I repositioned
myself in an area close to him, and I’m thankful I did. Around 10:30 I harvested a
six-point buck that was slipping through my location. The four of us made
numerous trips back and forth from field to truck to care for our game animals.
We were able to wrap up dragging and carrying meat out with enough time for an
evening hunt.

I climbed back into the same tree I had shot my buck in that morning. About a half
hour before quitting time, I looked out in the marshland and saw a bear coming
my way. I knew it was a legal bear, and wasted no time positioning myself for the
shot. The bear came into 27 yards and I sent an arrow downrange. At first, I
thought I had hit the front shoulder. I heard a loud crack and saw a lot of the
arrow sticking out, and my heart sank. However, my eyes were playing tricks on
me! The shot hit its mark perfectly burying in the off-side shoulder, and the bear
only went 50 yards before expiring. I was overjoyed – what a rollercoaster of
emotions throughout one week!

In James chapter 4, it says, “Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world
makes himself an enemy to God… He resists the proud, and gives grace to the
humble.” This has challenged me greatly. My passion of hunting has too often
overshadowed the One who breathes life into us. However, the Apostle Paul
spoke in numerous books of the New Testament about spiritual gifts. Romans
chapter 12 says, “Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to
us, let us use them.” 1 Corinthians chapter 12 says, “There are diversities of gifts,
but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord… the
manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all.”

I pray as time passes, I continue to recognize hunting not as something for my
own increase, but as an increase to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Each fall I
feel I conclude with more lessons learned from the woods than the previous. This
year taught me a great deal and helped me better understand the “why.” At
times though, I wonder if I’ll ever be able to fully answer the question, “Why?” I
guess I’ll keep hunting for it.