The Last Bite – Letzter Bissen

 

Do you have traditions that are part of your game harvest? I’m not talking about playing poker in camp or who sleeps in which bed. No, I’m talking about at the site of the kill. A recent trip to Germany to visit family reminded me of the long established traditions there. No, I didn’t get to go hunting during this trip. Time with family was more important and it’s really not the prime time for hunting there anyway. But it was good to remember my experiences from 25 years past.

Now I’m not one into fist pumps or chest bumps between friends as a way of celebrating the harvest. Guess that’s one reason I don’t watch hunting shows on TV. Seems like that, followed by a “money shot” pose with the game, is the norm. Yeah, I know you’re excited because all your effort has paid off. Not saying it’s wrong. It’s just not me. It’s focused on the hunter, not the hunted. But is it really a way of honoring the life you just took? Guess I like the old German traditions.

IN GERMANY, YOU EARN YOUR HUNTING LICENSE

You earn your German hunting license, Jagdschein, you don’t get it. It’s not a matter of walking into your local sports retailer with a Hunter education card and buying a license. You have to go through a hunter education process that not only includes safety but also game identification, and discussion of all aspects of the hunt. It also includes weapons proficiency training in both rifle and shotgun. There is also traditional hunter dress. No camo clothing in Deutschland! Hunters dress in forest green clothing. There are a lot of traditions associated with hunting in Germany, one of which includes a rather elaborate ceremony when the Jagdshein is presented.

Hunters receive their license in a formal ceremony that is part of the tradition.

On many hunts where there is a large group of hunters, like a small game hunt for pheasant and rabbit, at the end of the hunt the game is laid out in a certain order of importance, hunters gather in a semi-circle behind the animals, and hunting horns are sounded to signify a successful hunt. How’s that for tradition?

Hunting horns are sounded at the end of a successful hunt.

During my time hunting in Germany I experienced several of these but my most cherished in called The Last Bite, Letzter Bissen. Each time a hunter harvests a large game animal there is a simple ceremony at the site of the harvest. The hunter breaks off a small evergreen branch and puts it in the mouth of the animal to symbolize the last bite. The guide, or Jagermeister, breaks off a small branch from the same tree, wipes it in the animal’s blood, and sticks it in the hat band of the successful hunter. He then shakes his hand and says “Weidmansheil” (hunter congratulations) and the hunter responds “Weidmansdank” (hunter thanks). It is the hunters honoring the life of the animal just taken.

Gamsbock I shot while stationed in Germany. The Last Bite is in its mouth.

DOES LOSS OF TRADITION LEAD TO LOSS OF HUNTERS?

Part of me kinda wishes we would inherit some of these traditions here in the United States. Yeah, I know. Hunter recruitment is down and making someone go through a lengthy hunter training program will make it even worse. But isn’t there more to becoming a hunter than just attending a six hour hunter safety course? I teach the course. Believe me, we’re not building future hunters who understand the game they pursue and their habitat needs. We’re simply checking a block to meet a regulatory requirement. Don’t we owe it to the future of our sport to build knowledgeable hunters?

Our system of traditions in the past was built on the family unit. Grandfathers, fathers, and uncles took a young person under their wing at the appropriate age. They were not only taught gun safety, but also the lost art of woodsmanship (to show you how lost spell check doesn’t recognize the word). Traditions included sitting around a campfire after the hunt talking about the details of the day’s harvest which leads to stories of past hunts. Or sitting on the tailgate of a truck after a successful upland hunt stroking the feathers of the bird and reliving the excitement of the point and flush of that and past hunts.

Nope, now hunting in America is an event. We ride to the field in ATVs, use GPS to find our location, play video games on our phones waiting, shoot the game and go home. We have forgotten that a wild animal has given its life so that we may live. Maybe re-establishing those traditions is just the shot in the arm hunting needs to recruit new hunters. It is our connection with the natural way. Weidmansdank.