Why I hunt. How did an animal lover like me became a hunter, a cold blooded killer? Has my heart gone rotten?

After over 13 years of hunting and photographing the sport I decided to post a dedicated gallery to hunting (Click here to see it).  It was always somewhat of a secret having clients who are very “green”.  Being the environmentalist and animal lover that I am I always felt the controversial nature of exposing these images.  I decided to do it and explain how I became and hunter.  Here is the story.

My dog Tobi and I bow hunting for elk in Montana.

My dog Tobi and I bow hunting for elk in Montana.

I grew up in Italy reading books by Jane Goodall, Konrad Lorenz, Gerald Durrell. By age 14 I had read Darwin’s “The Origin of Species” two times.  Animals and nature were my passions and love.  As a kid, I marched on protests to abolish hunting in Italy.  I marched against animal testing.  If there was such a thing as PETA, back in those days, I would have been one of their best allies.  I was raised by parents who didn’t tolerate a crying child but I remember vividly, when at age 4 or 5, my parents bought a live lobster from a fisherman and were about to boil it live in a pot.  I remember the uncontrollable sobbing, even though I knew crying was going to result in my father’s military style whipping.  They ate the lobster but somehow I escaped my father’s punishment for crying.  I still remember how I felt at the idea of this lobster being killed in such a horrible way.

All my allowance went to paying for food for my many animals I raised, in my small room, in our apartment in the heart of Turin.  Half of my room was filled with cages.  I had birds, squirrels, hamsters, fish, turtles, you name it.  I even had a chicken at one point.  Every injured animal I took home, like a mourning dove with a broken wing.  She never was able to fly but she lived with me for many years until my mother complained about her incessant calling while I was at school “cooOOoo-woo-woo-woooo “.  She felt lonely while I was gone.  Apparently my mother gave her away to a farm where other animals would keep her company.  I wonder now if that was true.

After realizing that keeping animals in cages was inhumane I never acquired an another pet and started freeing caged animals.  One time I broke into a rabbit farmer pens and opened all the cages and ran.  I am not sure how they knew it was me, I got caught.  Fortunately rabbits were not that smart and just hangout by the cages or I would have had to pay the farmer for all the rabbits lost.

How did an animal lover become a “heartless” animal killer?  Has my heart gone rotten?  Have my feelings changed towards animals and nature?

During hunting season when I post images of me with dead animals, on facebook, I get bombarded by comments of my friends animal lovers.  Especially the ones in Italy, where the culture of hunting is not as prominent as it is in the US.  They will say things like “How could you possibly smile after killing this beautiful creature?”.  My brother in Indonesia who is opposed to hunting once wrote me “What happened to you Paolo?  You used to love animals…”.  I don’t even try to defend myself, in truth, nothing changed in my heart.  The reason I became a hunter is because of my love and respect for animals and nature.  Moving to Montana in 99 introduced me to hunting and I was educated and learned about such a misunderstood sport which has become an important part of lifestyle now.

Tobi and I Chuckar hunting in Idaho.

Tobi and I Chuckar hunting in Idaho.

Let me start by saying that everything I write on this post is pertinent to hunting in the US.  I support hunting in this country, where regulations are strict, very well regulated and the resources are managed correctly (most of the time).  The other very important factor about the US is that people follow these regulations (most of the time).  An that is really the most important part of the equation.  If you make great regulations and people don’t follow them, then you are out of luck.

I am not supportive to hunting in general, like hunting in Italy.  You need the right regulations and the right people to follow them.  No one follows regulations in Italy and that’s the problems with hunting there.

All this said, let’s get to the nitty gritty about why I started hunting when I moved to Montana.

When people criticize me about hunting the first thing I ask is “Do you eat meat?”.  When they say yes I ask  them “Do you know anything about the way the majority of domestic animals are raised?”  Without even mentioning all the crap that is injected in their bodies to grow big and fat quickly, like growth hormones.  And more crap injected so that they don’t get diseases from living in their own feces.  So crammed up in tight spaces with many others that they can’t even move.  Look at feedlots and chicken factory farms.  Fortunately there has been more awareness of cruelty imposed to domestic animals for our consumptions and things are changing to improve conditions.  I love animals but I also love meat.  I am not going to stop eating meat but I can assure you that when I take down an elk with my bow and eat healthy lean meat for a year or two I feel a lot better then when I take a bite off that plastic wrapped piece of beef.  I know the elk I killed lived a good life and I am also very aware that the population of elk and deer and many other animals need to be controlled.  I watched videos of deer and elk dying of starvation from overpopulation in areas that couldn’t be hunted for various reasons.  We have messed up the ecosystem and with the lack of predators is making natural balance impossible.  We need hunters to control the population of many animals and fortunately Fish and Game does a very good job at figuring just out how many.

I then get the hard core animals lovers who tell me.  “I don’t eat meat, I would never do that and let an animal die for me”.  Then I ask them.  “Do you know why the ecosystem is so screwed up that there aren’t enough predators to keep the natural balance intact? The reason is simple.  To grow those sprouts and soy bean for your tofu we have turned wildlife habitat into barren land and killed and are killing many animals in the process.”  Let’s not talk about all the chemicals and pesticides that are dumped into the earth. To make that piece of Tofu, all animal lovers are eating, many animals have been killed. Even eating fish is bad as Oceans and Seas are being depleted and raped.  Now, am I starting to sound like the little activist kid that I used to be?  Yes, I am still the same person with the same love for nature and animals.  I am just wiser.  Hunting for me is the most humane, most environmentally friendly, most animal and nature lover way to eat.  I know for a fact that killing an elk has less impact in the natural world than eating anything else I can buy in a grocery store.

Am I just hunting to provide food for myself or do I actually like it?  Do I like to kill?

The first time I killed an animal was with my brother Giuseppe.  I also remember that incident very vividly, I must have been 7.  We were somewhere in a dry part of the country.  Maybe southern Italy.  We had seen a Gecco for the first time.  We were both a little repulsed and fascinated by it.  We watched as it sat immobile on a rock.  For some reason we decided to tap it with a stick on the head just to see what it would do.    We tapped it too hard.  The poor gecko put his paws over his head and started rolling in pain.  It looked like a human.  My brother and I horrified started beating it on the head trying to kill it to take it out of it’s misery.  Was traumatizing and I didn’t kill an other animal until I moved to Montana.

My friend Chuck took me duck hunting for the first time.  I really didn’t want to do it but I decided to tag along because I wanted to experience it.  After multiple failures at trying to jump some ducks sitting in some slews, I started feeling an urge to kill one.  Was a very strange feeling and realized that deep inside me there was still the hunter instinct that kept the human race alive.  I finally killed a duck.  I didn’t feel good at killing it but I felt the satisfaction of harvesting an animal I was going to eat, I felt the satisfaction of holding that duck in my hands.  That same year I killed my first deer and I had the same feeling.  My heart went with both animals but somehow I had fulfilled an ancient instinct that was hidden deep inside of me.  The difference between the gecko and the duck and deer is that the killing had very different purposes.  The first incident was to kill the later two were to provide.  I became a hunter.

Now, let’s be honest.  Is really not all about harvesting and providing or I could get a deer or an elk with a rifle and make the process as quick as I could.  Instead I choose to bow hunt for them. Killing an elk with a bow is probably one of the hardest things I have ever done.  Took me 6 years of hard work to get my first elk with a bow.  Most bow hunters will never get an elk in their lifetime.  I spend the majority of September deep in the woods of Montana to get my elk and I spend a good part of November to get a deer.  Why?

Bow hunting for elk in Montana.

Bow hunting for elk in Montana.

The reason is simple.  My love for nature and animals.  There is nothing as intimate and as close to nature and its animals than bow hunting.  You have to become part of nature to get close enough to a wild animal with a bow to be able to release an arrow.  I have ran into Grizzlies, I have been surrounded by wolf, I have been so close to elk that I put my hand over one.  I have been so close to a massive bull elk staring at me face to face that I could smell its breath.  I watched mama deer nurse her fawn.  I watched buck deer and bull elk fight for their ladies.  The things I have seen, while quietly moving through the woods, could fill the pages of books.  When I release that arrow and make the kill the fun has ended. I always feel sadness when I see the animal laying on the ground.  A piece of my heart always goes with my kill.  I am thankful for the gift the animal has given me and I feel the appreciation of having healthy meat in my freezer.  I bird hunt with my dogs and bird hunting is about the relationship with my dogs.  Is such an incredible bond with my little partners that only bird hunters and dog lovers can understand.  For me being a hunter is not about killing, is about experiencing nature at its best while trying to be conscious and respectful of the environment and its animals.


28 Responses
  • Lodovico Reply

    Perfect description from someone who deeply love nature and understand the ethical way of hunting a modern day Aldo Leopold
    Who started this awareness among the forest service and the Bone & Crocket and the hunting world of the late 1800 in America

    • marchesi Reply

      Thank you Lodovico! Looking so forward to meeting you and drinking a good glass of wine. Sounds like you know a few things about wine ;)

  • Chris Gaggia Reply

    Wonderful hunting imagery and a great story. Hunting has been a traditional activity in my family, but I grew up in southern California, a long ways away from my grandfather and uncles who hunted. It wasn’t until I was 30 and living in Wyoming that I went on my first hunt. Now I’ve been living in southern California again for three years and the one thing I miss every fall is the opportunity to just go scouting or to build a blind on some obscure mudflat that is holding waterfowl…

    Cheers,
    Chris Gaggia

  • Sparrow Reply

    I got a little misty eyed. I’m a huge animal lover too and I have many of your same views. Thank you for this article. It has helped put things into perspective for me…I plan to start bow hunting next fall and I’m trying to prepare myself emotionally for what may come….I have a feeling I will cry when I get my first deer….but you are right….its healthier for the population as a whole.

  • Sebas Reply

    you lost me at “Hunter”…You can’t be a nature and animal lover and hunt…it’s that simple…now if you need a blog post to convince yourself or feel less guilty about it it’s another thing.

    • marchesi Reply

      You should read the rest instead of getting lost at “Hunter”. You could learn something.

  • Joanne Reply

    You horrible hypocrite. I hope someday someone blows your brains out and leaves you to die. Typical you only started when you went to that shit on a rock known as America. They are nothing but a bunch of gun toting hooligans over there hiding behind some old amendment about how it’s alright to kill what you want when you want. Don’t come back to Europe. We don’t want or need people like you over here. Stay in America with the rest of the murdering scumbags.

    • marchesi Reply

      Hi Joanne,
      Sorry it took so long to approve your post. Of course I want to share the comments of people like you who want to blow my brains out. This is the typical aggressive comment I get from people who are animal lovers but don’t have any substance to share. Give me facts and intelligent reasons why I shouldn’t hunt or you are wasting everyones time with your anger. I gave my opinion of why I hunt, instead of telling me I should be dead give me back a constructive comment of why I shouldn’t hunt.
      Take care
      Paolo

  • Harrison Reply

    Hi Paolo,

    I just found your blog today, and I just wanted to thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings on this subject. The ethical treatment of animals is so nuanced and complex, and it’s nice to read a perspective that isn’t oversimplifying the issue to a few simple feelings and sound bites.

    Although there are plenty of animal “lovers” (like Joanne here) who share the same qualities of ignorance and arrogance that many hunters are often associated with, I hope you’ll find that there are quite a few of us scattered throughout the states that share your mindset of compassion through participating in nature… rather than separating yourself from the harsh reality of it.

    Thanks again, and I look forward to seeing more posts from you!

    • marchesi Reply

      Thank you for the nice words Harrison. Nice to see intelligent comments from some of “us” who believe hunting is an acceptable way of life.

  • Johnna Reply

    Argh I appreciate this post but still feel a bit conflicted. Let me say that I am a creature of emotion and all of my objections to hunting are purely sentimental.
    One thing that really bothers me is the custom of taking pictures with the kill; what is the point of this? It seems as if one is gloating over the death of the unfortunate animal.
    Another thing I’ve observed is that sometimes those who choose not to hunt are perceived as being “weak” or out of touch with nature. For example, my entire family (from my 84-year-old grandfather to my 9-year-old cousin) hunts. Once, my little cousin couldn’t shoot a doe because he had a change of heart (the boy is 6). Much to my chagrin, he was teased mercilessly and called a “baby”. I want him to know it’s not a weakness to spare a doe’s life, but a moment of mercy. Another time, when I was pregnant, I saw my grandpa shooting at squirrels in his yard because they “ate his dog’s food”. When I went to confront him, my husband physically stopped me and told me I was “just being sensitive” because I was a pregnant woman.
    I honestly wish I could reach a place where I don’t feel physically ill at the thought of animals dying. Just the sight of a chicken truck is enough to send me into a tearful frenzy. At Red Lobster I can’t even look at the lobster tank or I’ll lose my appetite. I recently moved from the city to the country and am constantly confronted with cows standing around in fields oblivious to the slaughter awaiting them. I forsee myself bookmarking this and reading it multiple times to comfort myself when hunting season comes. I respect your views on hunting for food but hunting for sport seems deplorable to me (I.e. Giving that poor lizard a concussion then beating it to death, etc.) I really can’t judge though because I flushed perfectly healthy goldfish in my younger years and still feel guilt about it to this day. Thanks for your post.

  • Angela Reply

    I love animals, just thinking about factory farms makes me no longer want to live in this awful, cruel world yet I still support them because I have a husband and two children to cook for. My husband would never be vegetarian so there isn’t even a point for me to try to persuade him to stop eating meat. He also hunts, he took our 7 year old son hunting last weekend and they shot and killed a buck. This was the first deer my husband has ever shot with my son. What disturbed me the most out of all of it is my sweet animal loving son was so happy and excited my husband shot and killed that deer. There is a picture of him with a huge smile holding the dead deers antlers up right after the kill. My son has had hamsters his entire life, and believe me they were all spoiled, lived in enclosures way bigger than a typical hamster cage. Hes so gentle with animals, hugs and cuddles them gently, he used to take naps with our dwarf rabbit as a 5 year old. I don’t understand why he is so happy about killing a deer or turkey? How could he love hunting so much yet come home to all of our wonderful pets he loves and cuddles. My husband tells me I am too sensetive but I’ve always been a huge animal lover. Humans are responsible for killing off 40% of wildlife just in the past 40 years. The bottom line is there are too many people in this world, I’ve always believed that. I never even wanted children, my pregnancy was unexpected but I could never even think about terminating my pregnancy. I just do not understand this joy my son has along with my husband and most other hunters get after killing an animal. I asked my son why did he like it so much and he answered “he likes to eat meat.”

    I really wish I would have never been placed on this cruel world in the first place because my heart stays broken from it all.

    I’m sorry, I’m not trying to make this about me, I just needed an outlet because everyone in my family is happy to kill animals for food. I was just wondering why do you think these hunters are so happy after they make a kill? Because you explain how a piece of your heart goes with every animal you kill but that is not the case where I live.

    • marchesi Reply

      When I was a kid I was an avid fisherman and the thing that made me most proud was catching fish that my whole family ate. My pride had to do with feeding my family. Our ancestors survived by killing animals and I think this is an instinct we still have buried deep inside of us. I am sure your son is an animal lover but he still has this instinct and bringing home an animal that the whole family will eat makes him proud. But believe me, that deer had a much better life than any animal that was raised to be sold at a grocery store.

  • 'Holmes Reply

    Hello and thank you for this blog. I was redirected here as part of some research I am doing about bow-hunting, big game.

    I’ve been away from hunting for about 25 years. Back when I did hunt, it was mostly small game, using various types of guns, to learn how to survive in the wild, to be able to eat and not only for the hunt. I now feel that using guns is just cheating – so I bought a bow, and I’m learning how to use it.

    Meanwhile I’m trying to think of everything that might happen in the wild, and finding a solution for it before it does. One of those instances is the chance of running into the wrong animal. I see at one point in your blog, you mention you’ve run into Grizzlies, and another time where you were surrounded by wolves.

    I have seen many mountain lions, (Northern Arizona,) and once I was face to face with one, where I somehow managed to scare him away with lots of screaming, gravel-throwing and mostly just standing my ground. I didn’t have a gun then, and I remember I was so scared that I forgot to breathe. I truly found out what it meant to “scream from the bottom of my lungs.” Bear Spray works only when the wind is at your back, as, incidentally, I’ve learned by spraying a wild dog (and myself in the process), putting us both into a world of hurt for at least, a good 8+ minutes.

    So I must ask; What in the world did you do in those situations, and, what would you do to prevent it from happening again? I’m looking for some real solutions, not trade secrets.

    From this bow-hunter (and photographer) to bow-hunter and photographer, thank you, and best wishes in the wild.

    Ciao

    • marchesi Reply

      Last year I had 5 grizzly encounters,including one with a sow and cubs in the middle of the night. She was at 15 yards snapping her jaws at me and bobbing her head. She didn’t charge in the end but for sure caught my attention. I then had another sow and cubs almost run over my tent while I was sleeping in the middle of the night. Later I found out that the same sow had taken down the tent of some other hunters and ripped a bunch of stuff to pieces to probably look for food. Finally the elk I shot was taken by a grizzly and I found myself face to face with him. Again it didn’t charge but I gave him the elk. (You can read all these stories on my Instagram account @marchesiphoto) I carry bear spray and as a last resort a 44 magnum if the bear spray doesn’t work. But honestly I wouldn’t consider that prevention. In truth, anytime you hunt in Grizzly country you take a chance and there is not much you can do. Especially hunting alone like I do. So the only solution is not to hunt in Grizzly country and that’s what I did this year. I didn’t want to push my luck two years in a row. As far as other predators like mountain lions, black bears or wolf they don’t normally pose a treat. With noise you can usually scare them off.

  • Abbey Reply

    It’s kind of hilarious that your rebuttal to vegetarians/vegans is environmental… do you realize that cultivating a pound of beef requires monumentous amounts of water in comparison to a legume? You also demonstrate your absolute lack of knowledge regarding a meat-free diet… fun fact: vegans don’t eat tofu every meal (everyday, every week or even every month).

    Factory farming has the most horrible impact on the environment, should the land that has been clear cut for farm animals be used to grow crop instead there would be enough food to feed everyone in North America no problem.

    I think It’s pretty simple after reading this.. if you were truly an animal lover you would leave animals off your plate. Animals are not yours for food, for clothing, and most importantly they are not yours for amusement. You have to be some sort of sadist to believe killing something brings you inner peace. If you can’t see it that way then don’t claim to love animals. The end.

    • marchesi Reply

      Once again Abbey. Another animal lover who has no substance or constructive criticism to share. I never said vegetarians eat Tofu every day, I just used Tofu as an example. I also never said that is good to raise farm animals on my blog which you obviously haven’t read.

  • Brandon Reply

    I’d be honored to give “substance.” Joanne is absolutely right, you start off immensely hypocritical by saying you love nature and animals, then next you say you go out and kill animals for fun. However that’s fairly standard for a hunter to say, so let’s move forward here. Let’s imagine for a moment that you don’t have a gun, just as the animals you hunt, don’t have guns. Now, a man you don’t know sneaks into your house, shoots your dog, skins him, and walks out with him. However this is completely alright, because regardless of the fact that the dog was a loving animal with a family, who did nothing to deserve this fate, that stranger is just loving nature, so it’s completely fine.

  • Alberto Reply

    Hi Paolo, very interesting description. I like very much your photos. You should come to Mexico someday, there are many places for hunting. Don’t forget bringing your dogs (Braque francais) I have a BF as well.

  • Noelle Foster Reply

    Thank you for your thoughtful article. I had been an on-again off-again vegan for many years for health and philosophical reasons, and am currently an omnivore. I don’t believe all humans are adapted to eat purely vegetable diets — clearly not all mammals are (though I have some hardcore vegan friends who think their dogs should be vegans, which I think is batty). My body does not function well at all without meat (my children who have a different blood type seem to do okay without daily animal products). Legumes and grains tend to cause me significant inflammation. My philosophy about eating animals is very much akin to Native American philosophy — kill only what you eat and use the whole animal, cause as little suffering as possible, and be grateful. My feeling is that factory farms should not be supported in any way. Currently we buy almost all of our animal products from small organic farms which I have vetted for humane practices. It’s very expensive but feels so much better than the alternative which are disgusting and cruel. I am looking into hunting as a way to feed my family. I have the same visceral reaction when I see trophy photos. They’re very sad to me — I think animals should be respected even (and maybe especially) in death.

  • Christian C. Moncada Rey Reply

    Good Evening,

    As a aspiring Biologist, an animal lover and a wildlife and environment supporter i have to say your words give me perspective and sheer another light for hunters for me, at first i really dont like the idea of hunting so i decided to study the subjet and realize there are several type of hunting, the ones than hunt for food and as a reacreation or tradition wich i came to admire in given cases like yours and trophy hunters wich i despise still and hold no better than poachers, giving you the perspective from a foreigner (i’m Colombian, a country in wich hunting isn’t really commun or at least not as a tradition o cultural reference) is really difficult to understand the hunt as a nature friendly practice, probably for the “macho kill everything than moves” kind of atmosphere surrounding it can be hard to perceive any hint of sensibility, but your blog and others from anothers hunters make me look at hunting as a potential part of conservation movements and also a call to face the cruel reality of industrial farming and for instance our own lifestyles and what can we do to change it for good.

    P.D. : i disagree with the idea of hunter been the solution for deer, elk and alike population control i suport than any ecosistem needs their natural predators like wolves and mountain lions re introduce wherever possible, any hunter and conservation initive should go hand in hand with the preservation of natural predator preservation. here is an interesting report about this “http://www.defenders.org/sites/default/files/publications/social_and_ecological_benefits_of_restored_wolf_populations.pdf”

  • barry green Reply

    You try to justify your murder of animals with this crap and bullshit story..killing animals should be banned and people like you should be jailed..

  • Jiana Wessel Reply

    I appreciate your style of hunting. I rather have a hunter like you who doesn’t go out out kill the predators we need such as wolves, mountain lions and bears. That’s what tends to sicken me, hunting the animals that are endangered.

  • LeChercheur Reply

    So it is not only for eating purposes. In your own words to be close to nature. Do you know by using a bow you can prolong the sufferings? Many hunters feel remorse after killing. However I wonder if the trophy hunters feel the same. If you really, I mean really want to be close to nature. Use a camera instead of a bow or gun. Learn to appreciate the creatures alive.
     

    • marchesi Reply

      Thank you for your polite criticism. Eating game and not supporting the raising of domestic animals for human consumption is part of my lifestyle. So as much as I would like to use a camera (and maybe one day it will happen) I still want meat in my freezer. As far as using a bow I am very conflicted about it. I agree with you that a bow can be a less effective way to kill an animal if you don’t make a good shot. However if you practice as much I do and make a perfect shot many animals don’t even know they are hit. I have watched a doe I shot walk away while eating grass and die while eating. The big issue is when you make a bad shot and wound and animal and that’s what I struggle with. Making a bad shot can happen with a rifle and a bow but the bow is more likely to make you loose an animal. Unfortunately I don’t like fire arms and I believe in fair chase.

  • Dexter Reply

    Just when you start thinking about the ultimate pray – human, remember that the biggest, most thrilling and important kill is yourself.

  • Dhcndn Reply

    I am a hunter and I beleve every thing you say. I think hunting is a good thing. Last year I had the chance to shoot a doe bit she had 2 baby fawns with her so I gave her mercy.I am 12 years old

    • marchesi Reply

      Nice job for sparing the life of that doe and for reading my story. Hope you get one this year!




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