In north Mississippi, hunting and fishing are more than hobby. They are cultural heritage passed from one generation to the next. Tying on a lure is a survival skill akin to building a fire. Harvesting a deer, turkey or duck provides for the family as much as picking tomatoes or shelling peas.
This mindset isn’t unique to my hometown in north Mississippi or even to the southern United States. Avid hunters and fishermen are found all over the world. But for this article, I have in mind North American Christians, for this is my context and experience. And Christians in particular are most obliged to lead by example in the areas of hunting and fishing.
How does our faith influence how we hunt and fish? As a conversation starter, I simply offer five thoughts to Christian sportsmen/women as they prepare for this hunting season.
1. Stewardship over sport.
God gave Adam and Eve the responsibility of stewardship in the garden (Genesis 2:15). Unfortunately, many hear the language of “stewardship” and think about liberal environmental agendas. But those who bear God’s image and claim Christ as Lord bear the blessed responsibility of caring for God’s world in an honorable and thoughtful manner.
We southern-American Christians are often eager to scoff at anything that smacks of creation care or stewardship. Yet we are among the most active in outdoor recreation such as hunting and fishing. Why would such a high percentage of Christians who are also outdoor enthusiasts minimize the importance of caring for God’s world? Shouldn’t we be among the first to champion the call to steward God’s world wisely?
This immediately applies to hunting and fishing. And, it begins with approaching them not as a matter of sport, but of stewardship.
Jesus makes clear that to “kill and eat” is not a sin (Acts 10:13), but neither is it mere sport.
The next time you stand over a downed whitetail, pause in a prayer of thanksgiving before snapping a selfie.
2. Gratitude over game.
The moment of the harvest is a moment of sincere gratitude. The animal we harvest must not die in vain, and it should be honored as more than game. For it died to nourish us, to give us life. This should sound eerily familiar to the Christian. We don’t want to make too close a connection with the death of Jesus that gives us Life, but we would be remiss not to acknowledge that we find gospel echoes in every corner of creation.
God in His kindness gives us daily bread in various ways, and for this we give daily thanks. The next time you stand over a downed whitetail, pause in a prayer of thanksgiving before snapping a selfie. And perhaps consider the sad but beautiful reality that dying is necessary for us to live.
3. Hunt for food, not trophy.
Idolatry is everywhere, including hunting and fishing. We’ve all met the lying fisherman whose bass gained a pound with every telling of the story. Hunters too boast their kills by spending thousands of dollars on mounts for prominent display in their homes and hunting lodges. Mounting a buck may not be a sin, but what is our greatest purpose when hunting and fishing? Are we first concerned with antlers and bragging rights, or are we concerned with receiving God’s provision through His creatures regardless of size?
Food-first seems to me a better, more stewardly approach to harvesting animals. This keeps God’s provision in the spotlight and our accomplishments in the shadow.
4. Prepare your equipment.
Prepare your equipment at the beginning of each season. Taking time to sight-in your guns, bows and crossbows each hunting season lowers the chance of wounding an animal. Ensuring that sights, scopes and pins are as accurate as possible honors the animal and minimizes unnecessary suffering. Further, it honors the Lord of the harvest who cares for His creation and expects us to do the same, even amidst the activity of harvesting what He’s provided.
5. Follow the rules.
Few things are more frustrating for outdoorsmen/women than hunters and fisherman who refuse to follow the rules, such as:
- The hunter who hunts over illegal bait.
- The fisherman who consistently ignores the catch limit.
- The maverick who kills simply to kill and doesn’t harvest.
- And countless more examples of foolish practice.
Christians should lead by example in knowing and participating according to the rules of their state. Let us lead the way in demonstrating honor for God and His world, honoring state regulations and teaching younger boys and girls how to fish and hunt wisely and respectfully.
I remember scratching my head as a young teenager when the men who led me in illegal hunting practices also led my church Bible studies. We can do better.
Let these principles provoke conversation and a thought in your own life, hopefully leading us to more loving engagement with God and His world.