Wilderness Ethos of Dick Proenneke

Proenneke checking out a bear marked tree in 1967.

Proenneke checks out a bear marked tree in 1967.

Photo courtesy of Raymond Proenneke

From Youthful Hunter to Older Conservationist

Proenneke's evolution from sport hunter, to subsistence hunter to non-hunter seems to have been part and parcel of a fairly common feature of the maturation process of many American hunters. Writer-ecologist Aldo Leopold is most eloquent in his book A SAND COUNTY ALMANAC when he recounts a similar journey of personal growth to that of Proenneke's when he speaks of shooting wolves in Arizona in the early twentieth century.

"In those days we had never heard of passing up a chance to kill a wolf. In a second we were pumping lead into the pack ... When our rifles were empty, the old wolf was down, and a pup was dragging a leg into impassable slide-rocks … We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes. I realized then, and have known ever since, that there was something new to me in those eyes-something known only to her and to the mountain. I was young then, and full of trigger-itch; I thought that because fewer wolves meant more deer, that no wolves would mean hunters'paradise. But after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view." [ p130]

Two other hunters who lived around Lake Clark for a number of years, the late Jay Hammond and 90-year-old Allen Woodward, both part of the Greatest Generation of WW II vets and both underwent the journey from youthful hunter to older conservationists. Hammond, a big game guide and former U.S. Fish and Wildlife predator control-pilot, and Woodward, an ardent sport hunter both traveled the same trail as Proenneke and Aldo Leopold did, as they aged they much preferred to observe wildlife alive as opposed to simply looking at them as food for the table or trophies on the wall.

Three Dall's sheep.

Dall's sheep rams with thick, curled horns. Female Dall's sheep have short and slender horns.

NPS photo

Nothing Wasted

Proenneke's account of his one and only Dall's sheep hunt between October 22 and October 25, 1968 is chronicled in his own words in the book The Early Years: The Journals of Richard L. Proenneke 1967-1973 between pages 159 and 162. Proenneke's account stands out for its clarity and candor and is very much in keeping with the very highest ideals of American utilitarian hunting traditions. Proenneke just about completely consumed the entire ram, eating the meat, rendering the tallow and using sections of the sheep hide for canoe seat covers.

After the fall of 1978 the Twin Lakes area became part of Lake Clark National Monument and sport hunting was forbidden, only subsistence hunting for local qualified residents of five subsistence zoned villages was permitted. On December 6, 1980 Congress passed the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act which created 48 million acres of new national parks, including the 4 million acre Lake Clark National Park and Preserve. Apparently Proenneke ceased hunting after that time, but he continued to salvage any game meat that had been killed by sport hunters who violated the law and who, in Proenneke's opinion, had not salvaged all the edible meat.

This would have been in keeping with what he had been doing since he first moved full time to Twin Lakes in the spring of 1968: cleaning up after hunters who did not sufficiently salvage kills before they rotted or bears claimed the carcasses. The only exception to this may have been the occasional porcupine he killed, and often ate, that chewed his or other cabins around Twin Lakes.

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