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MAN BORN WITH PRIMARY INSTINCTS TO HUNT CIVILIZATION MAKES BIG-GAME PURSUIT MORE DIFFICULT

MOST HUNTERS believe that this primal pursuit puts us in touch with our evolutionary roots. Hunting brings us back to the very nature of our being as bipedal predators, capable of organization, thought and toolmaking.

But my own poor success as a meat-provider suggests that -- in my case, anyway -- the evolutionary chain has broken down, somewhere.

In short, I wonder what I'm doing wrong.

A new book called "The Ascent of Mind," by William Calvin, offers small comfort. Calvin is a Washington State University professor of neurobiology who writes semipopular, semischolarly books like "The Cerebral Symphony," or "The Throwing Madonna," or "The River Flows Uphill." His next might be titled "In Left Field With a Hockey Stick."

Anyway, in his new tome, professor Calvin talks about ice age climates and the evolution of intelligence, which is just the kind of thing your average outdoorsy, Boy Scout-influenced American hunter might find of interest.

We like to think of ourselves out there, stalking buffalo or deer or wapiti or -- just a moment earlier (in geological terms) -- tying our big game tag on a wooly mammoth.

Calvin, like most academics, recites the obvious.

Yet his insights on hunting offer some clues to why I didn't get a deer -- again -- this year: "Many skills are important for human hunting," he says (meaning, I think, humans doing hunting, not the hunting of humans), "detecting the prey, outsmarting and outmaneuvering it and killing it while avoiding injury" are the prime requisites.

This explains a lot.

I only saw one deer to shoot at this year. I had it outmaneuvered, thus, by definition, outsmarted.

Had it not been for my failure to observe an intervening tree branch I'd have killed it, too.

Happily, I only shot the tree, not my foot -- so at least I avoided injury.

I'm still stuck on the idea that "the world would be better off if we were all still hunter-gatherers.

Calvin quotes physiologist Jared Diamond, who said: "Hunter-gatherers practiced the most successful and longest-lasting lifestyle in human history. In contrast, we're still struggling with the mess (into which) agriculture has tumbled us, and it's unclear whether we can solve it."

The problem in society is exacerbated by the sheer numbers of humans involved these days.

Hunter-gatherers lasted so long because they had a naturally self-limiting population. Especially if they failed to "detect the prey, outsmart and outmaneuver it and kill it while avoiding injury."

On that basis, my own family's gene pool would reach a dead end long before "Dad The Provider" mastered the necessary skills of provision.

With the coming of farming (and, by extension, tofu factories) a whole lot of unsuccessful natural adaptations could survive.

Then, many of those less-adaptable survivors grew up to become antihunting activists.

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