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Submitted by Autumn Spaulding

Spaulding showcases the sika stag she shot this season.

Autumn Spalding learns life lessons from hunting

Hunting has been an essential human practice for eons, a crucial piece of hunter-gatherer society. Now that hunting is no longer necessary for survival, it has become a sport—one that is an important aspect of sophomore Autumn Spaulding’s life.

Her love for the sport is a recent development. “I can’t remember a single fall where I didn’t go on hunting trips. It was kind of like a family thing. My dad would always drag me along when I was really little, and I hated it at first,” Spaulding said. “As I’m growing older I’m beginning to appreciate it more. It’s become more of an independent thing where I can just be in nature, and feel like I’m doing something for myself.”

In spite of her initial reluctance, Spaulding finds that hunting increases her confidence. “It’s like an accomplishment, regardless of whether I shoot anything. If I go up to the stand and I have something within shooting range it’s like, I did this, even though I didn’t pull the trigger or release my arrow,” Spaulding said.

Currently, Spaulding hunts with a 42-pound compound bow, a rifle, or a twelve gauge shotgun. Although she typically hunts in Minnesota or South Dakota, Spaulding has also traveled to New Zealand for the sport where she shot a sika stag, a species of deer native to much of East Asia.

Spaulding said hunting is far more of an intellectual pursuit than most people realize. Somewhat similar to the game of chess, the sport requires forethought, patience, and strength. This aspect of the sport is part of the reason she has grown to love it.

Although hunting is a significant part of her life, Spaulding often feels out of place in the historically male-dominated sport. “If I’m having a conversation with someone and I’m asked what sports I do and I bring up trap shooting, nine times out of ten the person will be like, ‘oh, you don’t look like someone who would go trap shooting.’ It shows a lot about the messages ingrained in people,” Spaulding said. “I kind of started feeling the need to prove myself.”

This feeling initially created a sort of insecurity that Spaulding often struggles with. Despite the challenges this feeling produces, she’s found an advantage to the sense of displacement: “I think that it’s definitely made me a better hunter, because I will practice outside of the season because I want to prove myself,” Spaulding said. “Just because I’m a girl, it doesn’t mean that I’m not a good shot and I can’t handle this.”
Even though she has come to terms with her own identity, the rest of the world has not. From endangered species to gun laws, hunting is regularly surrounded with controversy.

For Spaulding, much of such debate manifests in training and the importance of ethical shooting.

“There are many people and types of hunting that are unethical and it’s a huge problem,” she said. “I’m a hunter, I’m around guns quite frequently, but I do believe that gun laws should be stricter. Often, people will take unethical shots, which is any shot that doesn’t kill the animal quickly. As a hunter, I have to make sure my shots are ethical.”

Spaulding argues that hunting helps the ecosystem: “[Hunted game is] meat that hasn’t been processed, that hasn’t been shipped somewhere, that hasn’t been fed and farmed. In that way, hunting can reduce waste,” she said. “Also, through the sport of hunting, a lot of land and natural prairie has been preserved. The amount of the population actually shot is limited, so wildlife and their ecosystems are preserved.”

Ethical controversy has made Spaulding comfortable discussing such issues and has allowed her to view similar discourse from different perspectives. Whether or not hunting features prominently in her future, Spaulding believes the lessons it taught her will always be a part of her identity.

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