The Origin of Ethical Hunting
We know the thrill of the chase. Have been there enough times to relive it down to the most minute details. Up the wooded hillside into an open glade; the beads of sweat uniting to dampen undergarments; heart pounding in ears and stomach; the natural adrenaline injection that somehow keeps a tired body moving toward the endgame.
We can assume the same was true for a man named Hubert who loved the thrill of the chase. The eldest son of Bertrand, Duke of Aquitaine, Hubert was born around 656 A.D., to a life of wealth, privilege and ultimately the freedom to do as he pleased. And what pleased Hubert more than anything was hunting.
He began hunting at an early age and later devoted his life to the sport after his wife died during childbirth, causing him to retreat from society into the forests of Ardennes in the Meuse River basin of east Belgium. The area is still known today for its abundance of wild game.
On a Good Friday morning, as the townspeople flocked to the churches for mass, Hubert, who felt he had no time for pious devotions, collected his hounds and headed to the forests in pursuit of a stag, or hart, which was a highly respected animal for its symbolic and mythological significance. In those times, big game animals, once exhausted and cornered by the hounds, were killed by way of a dagger to the heart. Hubert’s method is unclear.
However, on that particular morning, Hubert’s hounds held the stag at bay as he moved in for the kill when a sudden vision appeared. The stag turned to face Hubert as if he may charge in a desperate attempt to escape. Instead, suspended between its great antlers was a glowing crucifix. Hubert was dumbfounded. A booming voice from somewhere above spoke to him, saying, “Hubert, unless thou turnest to the Lord, and leadest an holy life, thou shalt quickly go down into hell.”
Hubert dismounted (apparently he was riding a horse), prostrated himself and said, "Lord, what wouldst Thou have me do?"
"Go and seek Lambert, and he will instruct you," was the answer he received. Lambert was the holy bishop of his diocese.
The vision was the beginning of Hubert’s conversion into priesthood. He renounced his titles and distributed his wealth among the poor. He hit the books, became a priest and was consecrated as a bishop who was known widely for his great holiness. St. Hubert is also known as one of the first to promote ethical hunting practices, encouraging hunters to avoid cruelty and treat animals with respect and dignity as God’s creatures.
After his death in 727, Hubert became the official patron saint of hunters, as well as archers, dogs, forest workers, trappers, mathematicians, metal workers and smelters. For many years, a kill was marked with three crosses of blood on the forehead and cheeks of the hunter: one for the crucifix seen in the vision, one for each of the antlers. If you’ve ever wondered about the origin of the tradition of wiping blood on the face of a hunter after his or her first kill, perhaps it’s because of St. Hubert.