Hang around a serious hunter long enough and you'll soon learn a simple but profound truth — it's not an activity so much as a lifestyle, a culture, a way of life.
It also happens to be a way of life that often gets misunderstood, reduced to a few quaint stereotypes of trigger-happy dimwits who somehow figured out how to pair a six-pack of Bud Light with the operation of a deadly weapon. More and more it seems hunting is a culture disconnected from the rest of suburbanized America, automated carwashes, and Starbucks coffee.
But despite that powerful current within the stream of modern culture, there are still a few guys courageous (or crazy) enough to swim upstream.
Enter Jeff Simpson, filmmaker, photographer, father, hunter and founder of The Short Season, a film project he undertook to help convey the outdoorsman's life in documentary form. He recently released the second film in the series, October Front, which details the preparatory process and bow season for whitetail deer on his Missouri farm.
From an artistic standpoint, the film seems like something you'd see at an artsy film festival rather than on your run-of-the-mill TV program. Wheat in full bloom, glistening and waving in the early morning sunlight, a truck rambling down an old country road, the hum and chatter of a John Deere plowing through a field. A father helps his small son into rubber boots on the tailgate of a truck, one generation leading the next into the wild.
In short, it's about quality. Even for a weekend film critic like me, it's pretty easy to tell the difference between something like Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy and the TV series from the mid-20th Century. The Short Season is more Christian Bale than Adam West, more Madden 2012 for Xbox 360 than Tecmo Bowl for Nintendo.
And for Simpson, who has done film work for National Geographic, it's not just about getting a kill shot on tape. It's about conveying a way of life as a complete process, in an art form that resounds with beauty and richness of experience for those watching.
"I think [this type of documentary] tells the story the best. There's reasons why we're out there doing this, at least there is for me, why we're out in the woods. So I try to capture that feeling of why we're there," Simpson said of his endeavor.
"The number one reason for me is that it's real. We do everything in chronological order, we don't fabricate story lines. It's everything exactly as it happened. That's exactly who we are and how it happened. We're trying to tell real, true stories about the outdoors, and I think people resonate with it when you do it that way."
And Simpson is right — when I watched the film, there was something inside of me that connected with all the natural wonder and skillful cinematography and said, 'I want that.' That's really what good art does, after all — it conveys the worth and truth of something in such a way that it ignites the affections of the audience. You can tell a person that deer hunting is cool all you want, but it's just not the same as seeing it first hand, with your own two eyes, being drawn in with every frame.
It's easy within the hunting community to complain about how our lifestyle has fallen on hard times. 'They just don't get us,' we lament. But all the while we're not really doing much to share our passion with others in a relevant way. Sometimes we play the part of all the outmoded cliches. And that's why Simpson's Short Season is just the kind of thing we should be championing, for it captures the why of hunting and conservation in a way that appeals to others.
And maybe most important of all, the film is exactly what Simpson set out to make — it's real. It captures hunting and the lifestyle in its truest and finest colors. There's family, relationship, hard work, farming and conservation, trucks and yes, whitetail deer. You don't just see the three seconds before his final shot, but also the months of preparation spent cultivating land and ensuring the growth of a species. You see how much work a lot of hunters actually do for the environment and for wildlife.
My recommendation? Watch it, soak it in, enjoy it, and finally, share it with others.