Writers on the Range: Hunting and gathering in the modern era

Alan Kesselheim
Writers on the Range

He wakes before dawn, moves silently from his bed. He washes and shaves according to ritual, anoints himself with powders and lotions, some to mask scent, others to enhance it. He dresses in his hunting outfit, adjusts his shirt, brushes dust from his pants. He eats a light breakfast of fruit and cereal, not enough to slow his reflexes or dull his senses.

His vehicle waits in the garage. He devotes a large portion of his resources to maintaining its performance and appearance. He enters the capsule and starts the engine. Music comes on. A fan blows warm air. He leaves his shelter and joins a gathering stream of other hunters traveling in similar vehicles. At his territory he parks in his appointed spot before joining the rest of his tribe in habitat known as The Office.

Here he teams up with his tribe, some of them friends, others only acquaintances. They greet one another and move into their positions, separated by partitions. Each hunter begins the day by organizing his or her tools. They adjust clothing, drink a stimulating beverage, gird themselves.

Day after day, week after week they hunt together, both cooperating and competing. Forty hours every week is the common commitment. Particularly devoted hunters might do twice that. New hunters join on from time to time, older ones move on to Retirement habitats, but the core personnel remains.

For the most part hunters chase down common prey called Regular Paychecks. Herds of Regular Paychecks populate the landscape in sufficient numbers to support the tribe in normal times. They are slow and dull-witted beasts. Even the least skilled hunters net small Regular Paychecks routinely.

Hunters stash prey in caches known as Banks, where elaborate measures are taken to guard the game. The hunter’s dilemma is that, while Regular Paychecks are ubiquitous, they are barely sufficient to tide a family over from kill to kill. One mishap – an injury, a vehicle breakdown – and the Regular Paycheck falls short. In that case, hunters petition the Bank for an advance until their next deposit. Banks are willing to do this, but only in exchange for a share of the next Regular Paycheck. You see the problem.

To hedge against this trap, or in desperation to escape it, hunters go after more elusive, lucrative prey. They may pull down a member of the Bonus herd, or one of the Overtime flock, periodic windfalls that stave off hardship.

More fortunate hunters enroll at Institutes of Higher Hunting Knowledge. Years of instruction and arcane rites of passage exact a great toll on family resources. Much of the minutia they learn is useless. Still, graduates gain access to hunts for much bigger quarry. Hunters might bring home Managerial Positions, Corporate Bonuses, and Executive Salaries, prey completely out of range of the common hunter’s weapons.

The most successful hunters squander their treasure on elaborate shelters, fast vehicles and pretentious baubles to adorn their hunting regalia. They require the labor of lower-caste hunters, who are mired in the quest for the most paltry of Regular Paychecks, the Minimum Wage.

On the other end of the hunting hierarchy, the least successful and most unfortunate individuals might give up altogether. For a time, the rest of the hunting society will support them with portions of their Regular Paychecks, but eventually they fall to the status of fringe outsiders, The Homeless. They own no vehicles, have no permanent shelter, and live on handouts from more successful brethren. Ironically, this bottom-feeding class enjoys the luxury of free time and leisure to an extent unheard of for mainstream hunters.

Occasionally, everyone is thrown into desperate straits during a dread season of Recession, when even the Banks fail. Mass migrations in search of new hunting tribes take place, the ranks of the Homeless swell. Hunters give up their shelter, their vehicles, their prized weapons in the scramble for scarce resources.

The hunter returns after dark. He has been able to participate in an Overtime hunt after most of his tribe went home. Only one other hunter did as well, but he knows better than to be cocky. Just a week ago one of his neighbors had to migrate.

He enters the light of his shelter. His children are already sleeping, but his mate has kept his food warm. The hunter and his partner sit in the quiet. She reaches out to touch his face. Already, he is preoccupied with tomorrow’s uncertainties.

Alan Kesselheim is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News ( He writes and hunts in Bozeman, Montana.

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