Persistence Hunting

Not talking about the Jeremy Robert Johnson story, although it’s one of my favorites of his, but the kind of endurance running we hominids used to use (used to use more) to run down prey. I mean, of course we did that—it’s what my “Chapter Six” story argues. Also, I’ve read accounts that, in the Great Plains, long before Kevin Costner got there, it was kind of a Sunday sport for white guys (I specify because in the accounts I know, it’s only ever white guys doing this) to find a wolf, put on some old-timey running shoes, and take off after that wolf. Trick is, that wolf’ll always stay just ahead of the runner, and after a while it just dies. This always struck me as half made-up, since we all see the helicopter footage of wolves bounding through snow for half a day after an eventually foundering elk. And they’re not dying then, are they?

But, finally, I think this is the explanation of that. I mean, this TEDx talk below, it’s really about “exercise is good, it’s how we evolved,” all that—which, again: yeah—but long about eight minutes in, he gets to talking about the trot/gallop transition speed of all these animals we used to run down. All these animals which were and are so much faster than us But? Trick is, they don’t turn on all their burners when we pop up from behind a bush and start giving chase. They just stay ahead of us, at a gallop, which, as it turns out, is a super inefficient way to cross great distances. But we’re making them cross those great distances, and inefficiently. So of course they collapse. We, being efficient runners, and not galloping but actually going closer to the best speed we can maintain, are working hard, sure, but we’re working efficiently. Our cool sweat-system is happening, our bipedal locomotion is happening, our lungs are happening, our ears are balancing us, we’ve maybe got ostrich eggs of water planted all around here to drink from, and we’re probably plugged into some good chase music besides.

We last longer at close to our high speed than a horse, say, does at its easy looking gallop. Or, in the Great Plains, we never outpace that wolf, but the wolf does lay over and die after an afternoon of this kind of so-called sport.

Very cool. I had no idea.

Here’s the talk, if you’re interested:

Also, this puts me in mind of an article I read, man, probably nearly thirty years ago, now. In a hunting magazine; I used to read every hunting magazine on the shelf (also? I’d read them from the shelf, since who can buy that many magazines). This feature was on these two brothers up in Maine, who carried just little .30/06 carbines. Effective, sure—lots of knockdown, which you need for those big deer up there—but strictly close-range (at least by our spoiled 20th c. standards). Why they could carry a short-range rifle, though, it was their style of hunting. Apparently, they would dress light, even though it was bitter cold, and then they would walk through the trees until they saw a set of tracks they liked (depth, width—they liked the big bucks). And, instead of setting up a blind or staking out a trail or sitting or any of that, they would simply take off running, after those tracks.

This would never work in Texas, say, because tracking a deer at a run through the tree requires snow. So: Maine.

And then they’d just keep running all day. Soon enough the deer would figure out some flannel monster was on its trail, so it, like that wolf, would steadily keep ahead. And then keep ahead some more. And some more.

By the end of the day, the brothers would come upon this wore-down deer just standing there, waiting for them to line up a shot on it.

Persistence hunting, it’s not just something the anthropologists get to study. It’s something still in use—or, as of a generation ago, in use.

Yeah, that big whitetail could bolt so far ahead of those brothers. But a whitetail won’t. A mule deer will, sure. They don’t look back. But you can do this kind of hunting on a white tail, if you’ve got the stamina. Pretty sure you could also do it to a rabbit—cottontails and whitetails are practically the same animal—except that rabbit’ll duck into a hole, first chance.

Anyway, this is pretty cool to me. Now I’ll be thinking a few days, about how this trot/gallop transition changes everything I know.

Exciting days ahead.

 

 

 

  • yowsa

    One more thing about this persistence hunting hypothesis you might find cool: Running for longer than 30 minutes activates endocannabinoids in humans and canines, meaning wolves, coyotes, dogs and humans get something like a marijuana high from running for long distances.

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22442371

    That has the advantage of making persistence hunting both more fun and more enlightening than, say, ambush hunting. Its helps explain how humans and wolves taught each other to hunt, I think.

    • Stephen Graham Jones

      cool. had no idea. thanks. and, yeah, explains why saber tooth cats went away: wasn’t any fun, just jumping out and slashing. “What’s in it for me?” I mean, aside from food, survival, all that.