Hunting & Kinship Relations

Sarah Clark, Josie Stummer, Anna Killebrew, Lakota Shehi

Dr. Lucero Radonic

ANP 201 Section 002H

April 18, 2018


Packing the night before, waking up early to spend nearly twelve hours in the woods with family members in tight quarters: these are typical of a day spent hunting with kin, an activity which serves to bond families throughout generations. The practice of hunting can be the glue that holds a family together, becoming engrained in the family’s sense of identity. Bob Griffin, one of our interviewees, states that “Hunting is not necessarily about killing, you know, it’s more about a lot of that preparation, and you’re at camp with your friends and your family… you know, getting up and getting out in the morning, then coming in and seeing what everyone else experienced”.  Thus, hunting is not performed just for the instrumental purpose of killing game, but is also an important bonding activity for many families, especially those who hunt by choice rather than out of need. This ethnography focuses on two families from Michigan who hunt in order to examine the way hunting as a family influences kinship relations and the ways in which the roles each family member holds change over time with each family. Throughout the project, we noticed that not only does an individual’s roles evolve throughout their lifetime, but there are generational differences in the way hunting is viewed and performed. Many of these generational differences are a result of technological advancements, new rules and regulations regarding hunting, as well as new environments created specifically for hunting. By performing interviews through an anthropological lens, we are seeking to understand how age affects roles determined in the hunting process and the progression of generational kinship.

To gather our data we conducted four interviews: our first being with Bob Griffin, father to our second interviewee, Riley Griffin.  Our third interview was with Thomas Young, followed by a final interview with his father, Neal Young. The third interview was the only one conducted in person, while all others took place over the phone.  Unfortunately, we were unable to conduct any direct or participant observation this time of year, as there is a very small window of time during which deer and turkey hunting can occur. Luckily, we received great photographs from our subjects to complement all the amazing pieces of information we pulled from the interviews.  

Generational Hunting in Scope

When looking to break down and understand how age affects roles determined in the hunting progress [LR1] and the bonding of the family, it is important to start with an idea of what hunting means to the families who participate, and how hunting has changed as the interviewers have aged. We assumed that hunting was a group based activity much like the hunters and gatherers of the past (Gowdy 130) , which was supported by the secondary sources we found written by individuals who regularly hunt with their family. For example, in his study of the Kemp family, Northrop (2016) explains that they have been hunting together in South Carolina for 6 generations. In this family there is a tradition of going out together and having the new generation track and kill a deer with the old family rifle passed down from the first generation of hunters (Northrop 124). This event would be a rite of passage for the new generation, and would also teach them, “the tradition and the heritage of hunting and conservation and the proper manner in which to take game respectfully,” according to the father of the young man who recently hunted with the antique rifle (Northrop 124). The Kemp family uses hunting as a group activity and a way to build respect; they go out as a group tracking the deer and knocking fake antlers together to bait deer into coming closer. It is a group activity and they stay together throughout the hunt to document this important moment in the new hunters life (Northrop 124).

Another family, the Birch’s , also regularly go duck hunting as a group and sit in the duck blind together. Brent Birch (2011), the youngest son of the group, states in his article that, “sharing a duck blind with your dad, creates a unique bond and fosters the desire to pass on hunting to the next generation and the significant life lessons learned there ,”(Birch 44). Duck hunting was a time to sit together and talk with the family while they waited for ducks to arrive–and to them it didn’t matter where it was. While in the past the family merely hunted on their property–recently they moved to a hunting lodge where hunting is easier because duck are more abundant. But Brent believes it’s not about the kill but instead the experience out in the field which is a statement commonly reinforced throughout our own interviews with two hunting families in Michigan (Birch 44). In relation to our thesis, how age affects roles determined in the hunting process and the progression of generational kinship, we assumed that roles would be divided because the Michigan families we interviewed would hunt as a group, like the two groups discussed above. We assumed that as they grew older they would better understand the bonds they formed with their family through hunting–and that they would take on the role of mentoring new hunters in the next generation.

Responsibility with Age & Maturity

The literature we reviewed as well as our interviews indicate that people who hunt with their families throughout their lifespan experience changes in the roles and responsibilities they have, especially as their age and position within the family change. This change was clearly present with Riley’s experience of hunting. Riley began going into the “blind”, a cover device used to reduce detection, with her father at age 6. She began hunting on her own at age 11. In our interview with Riley, she agrees that her responsibilities evolved as she became a more experienced hunter, for in the beginning she was just “being exposed to it”, and it was “more of a teaching moment”.

Here, it is visible that her father, an elder member of her family, was responsible for teaching her the techniques needed to hunt safely and effectively. Riley comments on the evolution of her hunting experience, comparing it throughout childhood into adulthood. When first learning how to use weaponry, Bob, Riley’s dad, disclaims that his kids at a young age would “start with a BB gun, and shoot cans in the backyard”.  

The next step was to go into the woods and learn what it is like to be in the blind. Her father sat with her in the blind, pointing out where a deer is and when to shoot once the deer is positioned properly. He states that “for the first year or two they [his kids] sat in the blind with myself”. During this time, it is also expected that Riley and her siblings would look up to their father as a prime role model.

Now, Riley, as a 21 year old, sits alone in the blind looking for deer and is responsible for her equipment and her kills, which is a difficult task. When outdoors sitting in the blind, Riley’s hunting experience is individual to her, as her responsibilities are personal. She states that hunting as an individual was “the biggest eye opener” throughout her time hunting, because “you are in the dark, in the woods, all by yourself”, which is a daunting step. If she missed a deer passing through her range, “it was [her] fault” because there is no one else to blame. Her dad Bob also reiterates this by saying that his kids “hunt on their own now” when asked about the hunting dynamic with his kids. Riley’s duty and ability to sit in a blind on her own and be accountable for her actions, equipment, and space, was granted once she was of older age with more expertise.

General Changes in Hunting Over Time

In both the interviews with the older generation, we asked how the way they hunt today differs from the way they had hunted while learning and growing up.  Similarities in their answers led us to believe many of these changes were not specific to their families, but universal to all hunters in the U.S. Midwest. First, technological advances have changed the types of guns that each family uses while hunting.  Also, Mr. Griffin emphasized the differences between the environments in which he hunted in as a child compared to the hunting camps they use now. As a child, he hunted in the woods behind their house, but now their hunting is restricted to camps.  However, there is a benefit to this, as Mr. Griffin says there is a much greater likelihood of seeing and shooting a deer in the camps than when you have to stake out your own spot in the woods, not knowing if this area is typically frequented by deer or not.  In addition, hunting is much more regulated now by laws and policies. For example, it would no longer be legal for the Griffins to hunt on their own property, and everyone is required to attend a course and obtain a hunting license.

Familial Bonding and Kinship

Growing and maintaining familial relationships is vital for a strong sense of kinship between family members. For all four of our interviewees, their connection with other family members is an important aspect of their lives. Hunting camp is a place for these bonds to develop, through physical closeness and storytelling, which is universal for the Griffin family and the Young family. Once a day of hunting is completed, the entire family will meet at the main gathering spot, and time will be spent with one another. Although the Griffins and the Youngs place similar value on the importance of these relationships, some attributes are experienced differently between both families. For example, Thomas discusses in his interview that hunting camp is a time to bond with relatives that are distant to him. The time he spends with them at camp may be the only time he sees these relatives all year. Therefore, hunting camp allows him to bond with relatives that he otherwise wouldn’t be close with. In contrast, Riley and her father Bob attend camp with family that they see frequently throughout the year. Hunting camp is not the only time the family can grow their kinship, yet it is the main contributor towards the reinforcement and development of their kinship. The strength of these bonds is demonstrated at holiday or household gatherings. Ultimately, familial bonds are very meaningful and eminent for both families, but the Griffins kinship is expressed more frequently than the Youngs.

Kinship within the Griffin Family

For the Griffins, family bonds with the members participating in hunting camp strengthened. Riley states that hunting is “something we are all a part of”, bringing her family members together. “Just like any of the other activities families do”, Bob states, this one brings the Griffin family together. As expected, the hunting experience strengthens familial bonds of inclusion. The Griffin family regularly hunts at a hunting camp and Mr. Griffin made the comment that it makes hunting a more enjoyable experience because the family, “knows they’re going to see a deer,” at the camp and the successful hunt allows for more bonding moments between the family member than if they had to go find a hunting spot themselves and camp out alone a dawn. The sense of kinship increases as relationships grow, and this growth is founded on storytelling, encouragement and celebration after a kill, and competition. The deer camp the Griffin family attends is on their property in West Branch, MI. When extended family and relatives all join together at camp during hunting season, stories are shared between family members, encouraging these familial ties to heighten. During “youth camp”, Riley’s first kill was an exciting moment for her because the family was acknowledging and praising her for her accomplishment. This kind of moment is one that could be shared and remembered between family members for many years, whether it be at deer camp or other family gatherings. Therefore, quality time with family members is an important foundation for kinship.

Kinship within The Young Family

Thomas first started his hunting experience in high school. His uncle invited him to their family’s land and hunting camp in Manistee, MI. When he first started, he spent most of his time observing his cousins who had previous experience. After a few years, he was allowed to go into the forest alone to sit in a blind and hunt alone. Over the years he spent at hunting camp, Thomas developed a decent relationship with his dissimilar and distant uncle and cousins. He claims that his time spent at camp has helped strengthen his familiarity with his distant family because it “created more connections than would otherwise be there.”

He admits that “some uncles and [other] family [he] doesn’t see too often, we don’t know each other too well, but we can always go back to talk about hunting… So, it does give us something to bond over.” In a similar fashion, Thomas discussed that his uncle and dad were the main family members teaching him how to hunt. He spent time watching how they used their equipment, being in the blind, and learning how to shoot a gun. After a while, his hunting experience became individual, similar to Riley. Over time, as he became older and more experienced, he gained responsibility.

Neal first started hunting after he married his wife, at age 26. He never expected the day to come where his wife asked him if he would want to go hunting with her family, which was a regular practice for her family. Neal grew up fishing, rather than hunting, and still prefers to spend his time fishing, but does enjoy the bonding at hunting camp, which has allowed him to grow closer to his in-laws.

Although he admits that he will most likely not actively promote the act of hunting, Neal passively promotes it by holding the land and managing the upkeep. Neal recognizes the importance to the family that this tradition holds, so he is willing to pay the taxes required to own the land, along with his brother-in-law. He also states that he plans on teaching his grandchildren to shoot, as well as taking them out into the woods, but may not “put the two together and take them hunting.” He follows this up by saying that it would most likely be his brother-in-law’s job to take the grandchildren hunting, but “if it couldn’t happen any other way, [he] would do it because heritage is important.” By saying this, Neal is reinforcing the importance of having a positive relationship with his kin, even in his case of them being his in-laws. And that kinship allows his son, Thomas, to learn skills necessary to hunt from other family members, which also enforces familial bonds.

Familial Roles in Hunting

Before conducting the four interviews, we had expected that there would be a significant difference in division of roles within the family during a hunt. Assuming this, hunting would be a group activity, where each person would have a specific role, similar to tribal group hunting of the past. However, from our research study, this is not the case for modern hunting, as there is much more emphasis on the individual to perform tasks and be self-accountable. The only roles that seemed present were those of mentor and “student” or child, which only lasts a few years until the student is deemed able to hunt by themselves. This lack of distinctive roles may be due to the nature of hunting trips, where each individual goes out alone for the day and returns to camp at night. Most family interaction occurs at a central meeting or sleeping place at the camp, rather than in the woods during the day of hunting. If modern hunting was centralized around group interplay, there would be defined roles within the process, and these roles could change over time. But when the hunting process becomes individual, a change in “role” is not prevalent because the individual is responsible for their experience in entirety. However, we did still find it important to mention, as the teacher-student relationship between adult and child was crucial in strengthening bonds and building respect between the two people involved. Also, it is evident the skill is passed down through the family, with student becoming independent hunter, and then eventually becoming a teacher themselves.


In conclusion, hunting is seen as a way to strengthen bonds in many families.  This is not necessarily due to working together during the hunt itself, but to the time spent in preparation, in the blinds, and afterwards exchanging stories.  While there do not seem to be specific “roles” for most family members, there is a very clear student-teacher relationship as an older relative teaches younger kin to hunt.  These shared skills and interests also contribute to the strengthening of kinship ties. Although the hunting experience differs between families and the type of game they hunt, there do seem to be some universal features of hunting, and most modern families in the United States hunt not out of necessity, but by choice.  The relationships and moments shared with family members goes beyond the days spent at the camps or in the blinds, and become a topic of discussion at many family gatherings. In addition, hunting creates a reason for the family to gather – a weekend trip to the camps during hunting season is like a sort of family reunion.   

Work Cited

Birch, Brent. “Life, lessons and the legacy: love of duck hunting shared by generations.” Arkansas Business, 3 Oct. 2011, p. S44+. General OneFile, Web.

Northrop, Arthur. Keeping the Past Alive: A Family Hunting Legacy Spanning Six Generations is Still Going Strong in the South Carolina Deer Woods. vol. 35, InterMedia Outdoors, Inc, Oct. 2016. p. 124+. General OneFile, Web.

Gowdy, John M. “The bioethics of hunting and gathering societies.” Review of Social Economy, vol. 50, no. 2, 1992, p. 130+. General OneFile, Web.

“An Interview with Bob Griffin”.  Personal interview. 28 March 2018.

“An Interview with Riley Griffin”.  Personal interview. 28 March 2018.

“An Interview with Thomas Young”.  Personal interview. 29 March 2018.

“An Interview with Neal Young”.  Personal interview. 10 April 2018.