Some Thoughts on Hemingway and Hunters

This article originally appeared on Leadership Voices when I wrote it to answer a question posed to me by some of the great men that founded and work on that blog.  I highly recommend checking it out.

Recently, there has been somewhat of an uproar over police officers embracing a quote from an essay written by Ernest Hemingway. The quote reads, “There is no hunting like the hunting of man and those who have hunted armed men long enough and liked it, never really care for anything else thereafter.” Many people seem to be frightened by an us versus them mentality that, without explanation, the quote seems to highlight. It has been said that it gives the appearance that police enjoy killing to those that do not truly understand the sheepdog mentality. Please allow me a few moments to explain it through the eyes of a veteran police officer/sheepdog/wolf hunter.


Although Hemingway was an avid hunter, you’ll note that at no point in the quote does Hemingway use the word killing. In fact, at no point in the essay does Hemingway mention killing a man. The majority of the essay is about fishing, hence the title “On the Blue Water.” The key point that people seem to take issue with is the word “hunt.” Merriam-Webster lists several definitions for the word. Here are a few:

  • to pursue with intent to capture
  • to search out
  • to attempt to find something

In fact, Merriam-Webster uses the following as an example of the proper use of the word, “Police hunted the escaped prisoners through several states.” There are instances that the term is synonymous with killing, but when in modern times has that been the case in law enforcement? Even the media, which is so quick to attack our use of the quote, often reports that law enforcement officers are “hunting” for a suspect? Why then is it so shocking when we acknowledge that we are, in fact, hunting?

I suppose that it is because sometimes we are forced to kill. I say forced because the actions of others dictate whether or not we kill. As detestable as it may be, killing is sometimes necessary to protect innocent life. It is a hard concept to explain to someone who doesn’t feel the way we do. Killing is a huge burden on the soul, but one society’s protectors are willing to carry if that is what it takes to protect ourselves or the people we proudly serve. The unspoken truth about an officer taking a life is that many struggle with the aftermath of it for many years. There is a huge emotional toll taken on the officer, even when they were completely in the right and had no choice. What separates our police officers from the wolves is the compassion that makes killing unpleasant.

101109-G-1103J-420 - Buffalo Law Enforcement TrainingIn the five paragraphs that encompass all of the talk of hunting, Hemingway explains the thrill of the hunt, and how those who have experienced it on such an intense level find themselves lost without it. I will admit that Hemingway was not speaking of law enforcement officers when he wrote the piece, but I will firmly say that he very well could have been. Ask any of the retired sheepdogs out there if they ever found anything to compare. I certainly know that I will never do anything else. I have been offered more money, better benefits, and holidays at home with my family, but I cannot walk away. It has been said that police work gets in your blood, and I agree. Read the rest of the paragraph that contains the quote and see if you could understand where it would apply:

“Certainly, there is no hunting like the hunting of man and those who have hunted armed men long enough and liked it, never really care for anything else thereafter. You will meet them doing various things with resolve, but their interest rarely holds because after the other thing ordinary life is as flat as the taste of wine when the taste buds have been burned off your tongue. Wine, when your tongue has been burned clean with lye and water, feels like puddle water in your mouth, while mustard feels like axle-grease, and you can smell crisp, fried bacon, but when you taste it, there is only a feeling of crinkly lard.”

What is more thrilling than hunting killers, rapists, robbers, terrorists? In short, nothing. Clearly, that is not all we do. It’s not even a fraction of what we do in most cases. We have been tasked with protecting the flock from themselves as well, and we do that task with resolve. We write our tickets, run our calls, check our businesses, but we remain ready. When the wolf appears at the door, we will be there standing in the way. We will charge forward to the sound of gunfire while the lambs take cover behind us. We will drive them away from our flock. And then, when the wolves turn and flee like cowards, we will hunt.

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