Hunters are hunters are hunters. And some things never change—not even over thousands of years. I base this epiphany on years of hunting for rock art and learning anywhere ancestral humans traveled they left their stories behind.
Some of these communications are difficult to interpret and obviously not about hunting, so I leave them to experts who better understand sociological and spiritual underpinnings of native people. However, many of the messages read loud and clear to anyone familiar with hunting, hunting magazines, or the “Outdoor Channel”—“I got the big one! Lots of deer, mountain sheep, elk, bear, buffalo, mountain lions—you name it, it’s here!”
Over the years, I have visited rock art sites throughout the West and have yet to view one that doesn’t have at least a few hunting stories pecked into the rock. Most of them have a lot of “visuals” devoted to the pursuit of wild game. Hunting technology may have changed over the centuries, but hunters haven’t changed in the fact that they find no better finish to their experiences than sharing their stories.
In every group of hunters, one or two storytellers embellish their tales a bit, adding an edge to the event. Those ancient rock artists also had ‘spin’ specialists. Most of the information on the giant slabs of rock constituing their art pads is mundane—a small deer here, an entire herd, including does and fawns there, a goodly number of mountain sheep with nice but not outstanding racks following one after another there. Then the ‘arteest’ goes to work, and you see trophy animals depicted that make you want to leap into a time machine to take you to them.
Today we spend considerable resources managing game numbers. Looking at many different rock art sites helped me realize how much our environment has changed. Obviously more game existed when there were fewer humans and less pressure on the game. In addition, mountain sheep furnished numerous meals for ancient people and ranged over more of the West than they do today. I also spotted buffalo carved into Newspaper Rock in eastern Utah and wondered what size herds roamed that rugged area or if, perhaps, the artist recorded an event that occurred elsewhere.
Hunters love new technology, and over the years, I’ve learned you can date rock art by technology depicted in the rock art. Bows developed later. At one or two sites, I’ve seen guns represented by the artist. Just as our modern hunting magazines reveal advances in hunting craft, these early sportsmen found ways to expose advances in their capabilities.
As a rock art enthusiast, I find myself mulling over implications that some things never change. Humans enjoy nature, they enjoy hunting, and they enjoy sharing stories about hunting. I like to think our stories will be available to future hunters in 500 or 1,000 years, but I doubt it. Even if we manage resources and habitat remains available, I am not sure paper and websites will hold up as well as desert-varnished sandstone.