Around 7 years ago, I got my first Australian Shepherd puppy, Stormy. She came from a working ranch here in Arizona. On that ranch, Stormy's Mom and Dad helped herd livestock around the property. They were working dogs through and through. It was in their DNA to do so and they did it well. They had an instinct for herding, but I wanted to test this theory for myself. So, a few years after I got Stormy I decided to have her "instinct tested." What I saw amazed me. Never before had I trained her in the art of herding. My dog automatically started gathering 3-4 sheep together and wouldn't let them stray away from one another. She stayed behind them with her head down as they moved around the pen. When one would try and break from the group, Stormy would hastily put them in check. There it was. A prime example of instinct in its purest form.
"What Does That Have To Do With Me?"
You're probably saying "alright Josh, that's a cool story and all, but what does that have to do with me?" Well, since you asked, I am a firm believer that us too(humans) are born with instincts of different kinds. These are passed down from generation after generation, the same as my dog Stormy. Because her ancestors were working herding dogs, it's simply in her blood to herd. Because our ancestors were hunters and gatherers, it too is simply in our blood to hunt. We are survivors and without hunting, we wouldn't have survived. You might say this is one of the strongest instincts we have locked away within. It's what got us to the big show that is life these days. How do we recognize that instinct though? I don't believe that the instinct itself is learned, but I do believe that we need to learn to hear it.
I'm not telling you to listen up to what I'm saying. What I am telling you is to listen to yourself. Do you ever get a gut feeling out on a hunt? Say you're chasing a bull and are starting to get into bow range. Soon, you can hear all of the little noises that bull is making that you would have never heard 300 yards back. Your heart is pounding and it's starting to feel like this is actually going to happen. Something inside of you tells you to go to the left, but for some reason, you go right. Because of this, you lose the shot opportunity. Had you gone left, like that little voice was trying to tell you, things would have been different. That right there, in my opinion, is your instinct and it is rarely wrong in my experience. In the heat of the moment, critical decision making is difficult. We typically don't think straight in those situations and would often benefit from listening to that little voice of instinct, instead of over-analyzing. Looking back to times I tried to analyze deeply, it turns out I was wrong more often than not. My instinct though? Dead on the money.
I know that subtitle might sound a little forward, but hear me out. If you were lucky enough to grow up in the outdoors, do you remember the first time you caught a fish? Or the first time you successfully stalked and shot a tweety bird with your pellet gun? That feeling that you had throughout that experience is what I'm referring to. It's a driving feeling that pushes you to do what is necessary to catch that fish or shoot that tweety bird. As if the animal were iron and you were a magnet, something draws you in closer. And then when you get that fish into the shore and put your hands on it for the first time, that is a good feeling. I've never seen a little kid not excited about catching a fish. Why is that? All of this takes place before any heavy influence from society is put on them. Kids are a shining example oftentimes of what is natural. For one it's fun, but if you look a bit deeper, it's the natural urge to get the fish or to provide. This is another part of our instinct if you ask me. The instinct to provide for ourselves and others.
In the herding dog world, some breeds have been so selectively bred that the herding instinct has been almost bred out of them. They call these dogs "barbie dogs" because they are just pretty and won't work. In the case of humans, I just don't think the natural urge to hunt and gather, along with everything that surrounds doing so is absent. As long as humans are surviving out there, I feel that these instincts will always be present. Take hunting out of the equation even. Look at people starting gardens to grow their own food. Why are they doing that? We are naturally drawn to such things because it's in our DNA. I doubt they are growing a garden just to throw all of that food away. No, it feels good to procure your own food, whether that is from hunting or gathering veggies or fruit in your yard. It brings things full circle and makes you appreciate the food that is in front of you. It also feels good to be successful out in the field and "bring home the bacon" if you would. As long as we keep doing that and also invoking the instincts in others to do so, I say our chances are pretty good at not turning into "barbie dogs."
Josh Kirchner is the author of the book, Becoming a Backpack Hunter, as well as the voice behind Dialed in Hunter, a blog that not only documents his own journey, but provides gear reviews, tips/tactics for western hunting, and encourages other hunters to chase and achieve their goals. Josh is a passionate bowhunter that has been hunting with his family since he was a small boy. When he is not chasing elk, deer, bear, and javelina through the diverse Arizona terrain, he is spending time with his wife, daughter, and two herding dogs.