From Southern California, public radio for your eyes.

On the Hunt

In the gun control debate, politicians point fingers at America's culture of violence and glorification of guns. In the next breath, they often feel the need to add a disclaimer about a proud tradition of hunting in rural America.

As the most recent back-and-forth over guns ramped up, President Obama took care to give a nod to America's hunters.

"If you grew up and your dad gave you a hunting rifle when you were 10, and you went out and spent the day with him and uncles, and that became part of your family's traditions, you can see why you'd be pretty protective of that," Obama told The New Republic.

Is there a rift between gun culture and hunting culture in America? When a bullet draws blood, what does that really look like?

A few years, photographer Andrea Tese decided to find out. Tese had never been hunting and it seemed like another planet from her perch in New York City.

Tese's work often focuses on mortality and the remnants of things, especially animals. The work fit her interests, but the end result surprised even her.

"I thought that I was going to be completely anti-. I expected to not like it, not understand it," Tese said. 

She worked with a friend who owns a ranch that hosts hunters in southern Colorado and began documenting their hunts, mostly for elk and other big game. She later contacted The Wounded Warrior Project and traveled with veterans to wild hog hunts in Texas.

"I kept asking the hunters, 'Do you get a rush? Does it make you feel strong or special? What is the motivation?" Tese said.

There are nuances to hunting, Tese said. Individual hunters have their own strategies that say something about a sportsman's personality.

Some hide for hours in camouflaged blinds waiting for an animal to approach. Some stalk their prey stealthily on foot. Others drive around in beefed-up trucks and on quads. Some use thundering high-powered rifles and others use silent bows.

Hunters speak about respect for animals. In the spirit of sportsmanship, they try to take clean shots that will stop an animal dead in its tracks.

These efforts often extend to hunter's feeling about gun control, Tese said. Among hunters, opinions run the gambit from strict opposition to any restrictions on gun ownership to a feeling that certain types of munitions make their own sport nothing more than a video game.

Over the course of spending months on the ranch, hunters goaded Tese in to trying it out herself. She was drawn toward the silence and stillness of bow hunting.

"The thing I don't like about hunting is the noise," Tese said. "It upsets everything. All the animals around get totally freaked out."

She now makes trips from New York City to hunt regularly. This surprised no one more than Tese herself. She traces her new-found interest back to the first time she saw an excellent bow hunter make a kill in the field.

"If you hit your mark, it's almost like the animal is no pain," Tese said. "It's like a razor blade that goes in. It kind of flinches a bit and then falls down. Bow hunting is so beautiful."

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