A few months ago, if you asked me, who is the patron saint of hunters, I would’ve shrugged my shoulders and consulted the all-knowing wizard – Google (forgive me Sister Thomasella, there were too many to remember). There’s a patron saint for everything, right?
St. Hubertus or Hubert (c. 656 – 30 May 727 A.D.) is the saint in question. His official advocacy duties include hunting and huntsmen, archers, trappers, foresters, hunting dogs, and oddly, opticians, chicken roasters, mathematicians, and metal workers. The latter four falling into the category, I’m guessing, other duties as assigned. His feast day is November 3, so if you’re looking to celebrate the arrival of the hunting season or any of the aforementioned, this would be a good time.
Normally, I wouldn’t dwell on such matters for very long. I’d just store away the information for a future episode of Jeopardy and move on. But in this case I was motivated to learn a little more.
Early this year a friend of mine, a pious man of high character and retired wildlife biologist, was scouting turkey hunting spots in Marinette County, Wisconsin not far from his cabin. Driving down a rough dirt road near the town of Goodman, he came upon the Shrine of St. Hubertus.
He told me his story and sent me a link to a local news piece. I was fascinated and the more I researched, the more curious I became. So in early October while visiting, I insisted on a morning drive to see this venerated place in the Northwoods of Wisconsin.
Located off the appropriately named Shrine Road, we re-traced my friend's scouting route, a rough narrow drive through northern hardwoods showing colorful signs of autumn. As we slowly drove, we were greeted by deer and turkeys, flushed several ruffed grouse, and slowed down as a black bear darted across our path. Missing the turn on the first pass, we reversed course and immediately saw small handmade mile marker signs to guide us. A short turn off the main trail brought us to a small opening in the woods.
The Shrine was built in 1954 by deer hunters, who gathered at the site to say a prayer before hunting. Still in use and a little worse for wear, the shrine includes a carving of St. Hubertus, an altar, crosses, benches, a large brass bell, a small soldiers memorial, a setup for cookouts, a tidy privy for bucks and does, and a large granite bench memorial for a deceased outdoorsman who frequented the area. And if you forget the reason you are there, a large log-framed sign will remind you:
Prayer of the Woods
I am the heat of your hearth on cold winter nights,
the friendly shade screening you from the sun,
and my fruits are refreshing draughts quenching your thirst as you journey on.
I am the beam that holds your house,
the board of your table, the bed on which you lie, and the timber that builds your boat.
I am the handle of your hoe,
the door of your homestead, the wood of your cradle,
and the shell of your coffin.
I am the bread of kindness and the flower of beauty.
Ye who pass by, listen to my prayer: Harm Me Not.
The legend and story of St. Hubertus is interesting. A tragedy, the death of his wife during child birth, plunged him into grief. Seeking solace he immersed himself in his passion, hunting.
Deciding to forego Good Friday worship in favor of the hunt, Hubertus would encounter a stag with a glowing crucifix between its antlers. Hearing a voice telling to give himself to God, Hubertus reordered his life priorities and would go on to become a priest, bishop, an eventually a saint.
The legend goes on to say the spiritual voice also lectured Hubertus on the treatment of animals and the ethics of hunting, a message he would impart to his future congregation. Subsequently, Hubertus is recognized as the first to promote ethical hunting, and his influence can be seen in the hunting methods and traditions of Germany and other parts of Europe.
The Catholic Online website states: “Hubert is honored among sport hunters as the originator of ethical hunting behavior. In some versions of the story, the stag is said to have lectured Hubert to hold animals in higher regard and have compassion for them as God's creatures with value in their own right. For example, the hunter ought to only shoot when a clean, quick, and therefore humane kill is assured. He ought to shoot only old stags which are past their prime breeding years and forego a much-anticipated shot on a trophy to instead euthanize a sick or injured animal that might appear on the scene. Further, one ought never to shoot a female with young in tow, to assure the young deer have a mother to guide them to food during the winter. Such is the legacy of Hubert, which is still taught today and who is held in high regard in the extensive, rigorous German and Austrian hunter education courses.”
If this story of the influence of St. Hubertus is not impressive enough, take note then of the International Order of Saint Hubertus (IOSH), motto: Deum Diligite Animalia Diligentes - "Honoring God by Honoring His Creatures"
An ancient (founded in 1695) and somewhat mysterious organization, membership to IOSH seems to be limited to only men who live a little higher lifestyle than your average North American hunter; you can’t join, you get invited. Membership is about 700, with 475 members in the U.S. according to their website.
And if you get your imagination past the sashes, capes, crosses, and titles like grand master, grand priors, and squires, you’ll read an impressive set of principles committed to hunting and conservation. Although, the not-so-secretive nature of this secretive fraternity makes it a little difficult to pinpoint its actual work, operating a little differently than the hunting and fishing organizations most of us join.
In a more definitive way of gauging world-wide influence, the marketing division of St. Hubertus seems to be doing quite well. Social media presence is solid as is a presence on Pinterest and Etsy. A quick web search sampling reveals a so-named resort (Iowa), churches and shrines (several locations), restaurant (Italy), winery (Canada), beer (Belgium), medals, rosaries, and T-shirts (multiple sources), and handcrafted dog food (Texas), to name a few. And I’d be totally remiss if I didn’t mention the well-known green bottled German digestif liqueur Jägermeister.
So this November 3 as you prepare and partake in the hunting season, you may want to take a moment to reflect and offer a word of thanks to St. Hubertus. I’ll be looking for that Belgium beer. Want to know more, here are a few links for more background.
Picture: St. Hubertus. Stained glass window in St. Patrick Basilica. Ottawa. Workshop of Franz Borgias Mayer (1848–1926); Photo: Wojciech Dittwald