Mark Healey is a man of multiple talents. Big wave surfer and waterman, of course, but champion spearfisher and bow hunter, too. So it makes sense that he’d partner with a company called Sitka, a camo-centric brand with a serious environmental slant.
Hunting for you own food will always be something of a contentious issue, but if you know any hunters, there’s a good chance they’re far more concerned with conservation than the average person. I’m not talking about trophy hunters — I’m talking about people who hunt for food. When you think about it, if you’re going to eat meat, it’s better if you kill it yourself. Our voracious appetite for 16-ounce steaks, Big Macs, and grocery stores filled with ground-up animals packaged in Styrofoam and plastic have created an industry that is not only cruel but terrible for the environment as well. “To me, there’s nothing more profane than a bunch of live animals being killed by machines,” said Healey. “There’s just no respect. But if you hunt an animal, you talk about that animal. You share the story. You share the food. It’s personal. You know where it came from.”
Healey, who hunts on and around the Hawaiian Islands frequently, doesn’t just hunt for food. Thousands of acres of the Hawaiian Islands are being used for commodities and nearly all the food is imported. Hawaii is one of the lushest, richest places in the world, and Healey’s goal is food-independence. He hunts to keep his footprint light, to feed his family healthy food, and to do his part to keep the axis deer population in check.
If you’re someone who eats meat and doesn’t hunt, it’s more than likely you get it from a grocery store. Those grocery stores, for the most part, get it from a place that likely isn’t treating their animals all that well. One deer can feed a family for months. One fish can feed a family for a few days. And selecting which animal you’re going to eat saves millions of others from being dragged up from the bottom of the sea or living in a cage before dying from a bolt fired into the back of the head. The only problem, however, is that doing that requires that you actually take a life. “No matter what you’re eating, it’s taking something from somewhere,” Healey said. “Life consumes life—that’s just the way it goes. But you want to make sure the scales stay balanced… I don’t enjoy hurting things. I don’t enjoy killing things. But it’s an essential part of the process. I need to see what it took to get that red meat on the plate.”
Way back in the 1860s, the first axis deer was brought to the Hawaiian Islands as a gift to King Kamehameha V. He gave some of his gifted deer to the island of Moloka’i to provide islanders with game to hunt. There are a few different stories about what happened later. According to Fox, in the 1950s, a few were taken to Maui “as part of post-World War II efforts to introduce mammals to different places and increase hunting opportunities for veterans.” Apparently, biologists at the time believed that the introduction of a non-native species could help improve the environment, but since there’s nothing on Maui that prey on axis deer, the population exploded. When it comes to the Big Island, it’s a bit of a mystery. Hawaiian officials suspect that someone may have dropped a few from a helicopter onto the northern tip of the island, and according to Fox, “tracks along the southern coast indicate deer were pushed into the ocean from a boat and forced to paddle ashore.”
However they got there, they are there, and by 2012, the deer were causing about $1 million in damages for ranchers, resorts, and farmers.
Now, in 2021, the uncontrolled deer population is ravaging Maui’s endemic grasslands, and the only predators they have are the few people who hunt them. We introduced a species that shouldn’t have been there, and now we need to do something about it.
Right now, most people don’t think about where the meat on our plate comes from. They don’t necessarily think about the fact that an animal had to die for it. But Healey is aware of the sacrifice — and as an added bonus, he loves to do it. “When it’s high stakes bow-hunting,” he said, “I probably have as much or more adrenaline than surfing giant waves… there’s no talking your way out of things in nature. If you screw up or weren’t diligent, you will be punished. That’s it.”