I’m going deer hunting for the first time this year, and I’ve heard of a tradition that requires you to smear the blood on your face of your first kill. Why is that? What is the purpose?
— P.K., Georgia
Dan Schmidt’s response:
This is an excellent question that’s poorly understood among today’s hunters. Although some hunters believe “blooding” rituals are rooted in American Indian culture, they’re more likely a custom passed down by European settlers.
Blood smearing is best described as a social ritual that initiates newcomers to the hunting ranks. It is believed to have started in the 16th century by English fox hunters. Considered a rite of passage, a master huntsman would smear the blood of a hunter’s first fox on their cheeks and forehead. They would often use the fox’s tail to apply the blood.
Another misunderstood custom, known as the last bite, is practiced by some modern American deer hunters. In this act, a hunter places a branch, leaves or grass in the deer’s mouth as a way of honoring the animal in death. This ritual is linked heavily toward German hunters, who called it Der letzte Biss, after shooting roe deer and wild hogs. It was practiced for centuries before being popularized in the 18th century in hunting memoirs.
Although many Americans don’t know the history behind these rituals, they were considered as almost sacred acts among hunters centuries ago. To forgo them upon the killing of an animal was considered disrespectful and a sure sign of bad luck to follow.
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