Hunting as a Family Legacy: Connecting with Nature in the Mountains of Hawaii

Published 2024-05-22

By MYSTERY RANCH Hunt Ambassador, Justin Lee

The crisp air chills as I stand high upon the slopes of Mauna Loa, looking down toward the ocean, you can barely make out where the ocean and sky meet. An Erckle Franklin chuckles in the distance, as I stand against the backdrop of a fiery sunrise. This scene, etched into my memory, embodies the essence of hunting – a tradition passed down through my family for generations. My connection to this pursuit, fueled by the passion of my great-grandfather and nurtured by my father’s father and then to my father, transcends the mere act of harvesting game. It’s a legacy built on respect for nature, the thrill of the hunt, and the satisfaction of self-reliance.

Born in 1912, my great-grandfather, a man shaped by the ruggedness of early island life void of mai tais and umbrella toothpick pricked pineapples, found solace in the pursuit of archery in the 1930s. Back then, bows were meticulously crafted from wood, arrows painstakingly fletched with feathers, boots were slightly more than sandals and backpacks were merely a canvas pouch with arm straps. Technology was rudimentary, relying on skill and patience to bring down our island’s pursuits which consisted of wild boar, goats, and sheep. Yet, the heart of the hunt remained the same – the deep connection with nature, the respect for the animal, and the satisfaction of providing for one’s ohana. Post WWII money was extremely tight and being able to harvest good clean protein was instrumental in my family’s survival.

This passion and necessity for the hunt was passed down to my father. Growing up I’d hear stories of his early hunting expeditions. Stories of treks through dense forests, sharp lava rocks, and hotter than hot days using an old ALICE pack. This canvas pack, though durable, lacked the comfort and support modern packs offer. Nevertheless, it served its purpose, carrying essential gear and the fruits of a successful hunt.

My grandma tells stories about how she would have to get creative in the kitchen because there are only so many times you can eat BBQ sheep and kalua pig. However, she knew how lucky she was to have meat to cook for my dad and his two brothers. My father often boasts about how many rams he shot in one year, but only when my uncle is there do I hear stories of a different tune. Ones of the rams that took sometimes 6 shots to take down or making it back to camp with one less sleeve because he forgot his “mountain gold” (toilet paper). I often think about those early adventures of my dad and uncles and wish I could’ve just been there to witness their first few steps with a bow in tow.

Time, as it always does, brought with it advancements in hunting technology. I entered the world decades after my great-grandfather’s first steps led him high on our island peaks. My first experience in the field wasn’t with a bow in my hand, but I was tasked with keeping up and learning. My father, ever the supportive mentor, ensured I understood the fundamentals of ethical hunting – respect for the animal, responsible shot placement, and leaving no trace in our wake. It wasn’t until I fully understood the lessons being taught that I was given a bow. Unlike the wooden bow and feather-fletched arrows, my great-grandfather first donned, it was a modern aluminum compound bow with aluminum arrows and plastic vanes.

One of the most significant upgrades I have witnessed firsthand was the evolution of the hunting backpack. My father, accustomed to the limitations of his old pack, was pretty much in awe of the comfort and support provided by my first Mystery Ranch pack, the pop-45. He spoke wonders and was beside himself as how it distributes weight evenly, which would allow for longer treks without fatigue. Breathable materials wick away sweat, ensuring comfort even during strenuous hikes. Technology, in this instance, doesn’t diminish the core principles of hunting; instead, it enhances the experience by minimizing physical limitations.

Despite the advancements in technology, albeit compound bows or carbon fiber framed packs, the essence of hunting remains unchanged. The thrill of the stalk, the adrenaline rush of the shot, and the satisfaction of the harvest are experiences that transcend generations. My Mystery Ranch backpack may be a far cry from my great-grandfather’s canvas pack, but just like the spirit of the hunt itself, it embodies the same core principle – functionality in service of a timeless tradition. The frame provides a foundation, supporting the weight of gear and the harvested animal, just as the principles of ethical hunting have served as the foundation for the generations of hunters in our fam-Lee.

The legacy of hunting is our family is a lesson that isn’t solely about the act of acquiring food. It’s about creating a deep respect for nature, a deep understanding of the delicate balance within an ecosystem. It’s about learning to track silently, anticipating animal behavior, and appreciating the mana (spirit) and power of outside world. The hunt teaches patience, discipline, and a sense of kuleana (responsibility) for everything outside.

Hunting isn’t just about the kill; it’s about the journey, the connection to the natural world, and the responsibility that comes with it. It’s about forging bonds with loved ones, sharing stories on the long drives home, and passing down a way of life built on respect and self-reliance. It’s a heritage I carry proudly, one that I’ll one day share with my own children.

Pa’akai, pa’a is solid and kai is ocean water. Solid-ocean or salt. To the Hawaiian people the importance of pa’akai could not be overstated. It was how people preserved things today to bring them into the future. My son’s name is Pa’akai, it will be through him that I will pass on this legacy so he may carry it into the future. As I write this, he is four years old and I look forward to our drives home after a long day in the field, where we will relive sights, smells, and emotions were encountered throughout the day.

The future of hunting may see further advancements in technology, but the core principles instilled by my great-grandfather will endure.