Your cart is empty
When I first heard the term “emergent hunter,” I was floored. It’s a simple label, but it jolted me into a new reality that was a long time coming.
I’ve been hunting my whole life, thanks to a loving father who showed his little 12-year-old boy the way. I’ve also been in the hunting industry for the last 13 years, working alongside some of the best to ever do it.
For years now, I’ve seen the cultural tide in the hunting world rise and recede, bringing with it sometimes uncomfortable, but necessary change. Right now, our community of hunters features a diversity of ideas and approaches like never before. The backgrounds and perspectives available today are varied, far exceeding the stagnation of the past.
Onto the landscape has stepped what I used to call “adult-onset” hunters. Simply put, these are adults who have no hunting background who decide to take up the pursuit. I’ve always thought this colloquial term needed a change. I think it sets the wrong tone and makes hunting sound like more of a diagnosis than a discovery.
Enter the term “emergent hunter” and the many unlikely characters from across this country who fit this description. They’ve gathered around one idea: hunting (and life) is all about connection. This growing movement of hunters aims to brush past dogma and tired traditions to find a community in the outdoors. They want to learn how, but they also care about why.
These emergent hunters want to eat better, sure, but their aim is much more developed. They want to sidestep the modern sedentary lifestyle, deeply learn human skills, punch back at the evils of technology and change the way they interface with the wild. I’ve witnessed these sentiments bubbling for some time, but recently I was thrust into a situation I never expected. It gave emergent hunters a whole new meaning.
In April of 2021, I aired an episode of The Hunting Collective, a podcast I hosted for MeatEater at the time. That day, as I often did, I read an email from a listener. This listener’s name was Juan Carlos, a hopeful new hunter in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
He told an amazing story of connection with the land, but he needed someone to help him get over the many hurdles and frustrations that every new hunter experiences. The day after that podcast aired, I had almost 50 emails in my inbox from hunters in North Carolina and Virginia offering their help as mentors.
This was the spark. A moment when so many of us realized the opportunity we had to make a difference. Soon, more emails flooded in from all around the country, and state chapters were formed. This idea bonded strangers together and gave hunting new meaning for those willing to join the group we called The Hunt in Common.
This is how I met Nurry Hong and Jordan Rigsbee. They first emailed me as listeners of the podcast looking to make an impact, but soon they became much more. They’re now officers in The Hunt in Common, a nonprofit we started from that single spark. The idea is that a long-term, localized mentorship is the key to embracing the emergent hunter. We have thousands of members who have been inspired to take part.
Nurry and Jordan are leading the charge in this new mission, and I couldn’t
be prouder to call them my friends. To me, these guys are not outliers, they are the tip of an iceberg that is bigger than I could have ever imagined.
I met Nurry and Jordan for our first hunt together on a sunny March day in Chico, California.
Nurry pulled up in a black Audi, wearing aviator shades and a tight Shirt. He’s slim and well kept, and looks the part of a self-made success story. The 42-year-old is squeezing this weekend hunt amidst a full schedule. He’s currently raising money for his startup biotech company, managing a dual-income family with two growing boys, making time for his loving wife, and engaging in a well-connected social life back in Los Angeles.
His time is precious, but he just battled hours of snarling California traffic on Friday afternoon to rush up to Chico to meet Jordan, his Hunt in Common mentor, for a chance to learn the hunting ropes.
Nurry was born and raised in Tacoma, Washington, in a small suburban community. He’s the child of Korean immigrant parents, and despite some car camping and fishing as a kid, he never really learned how to handle the outdoors. Nurry first thought about hunting in 2018. He was 40, living in L.A., and to his admission “held a stereotypical, Blue Coast Elitist view of hunting. I figured it was for gun-loving people in flyover states and trophy hunters.”
“The tech overlords turned me onto Steve Rinella, Ben O’Brien, Randy Newberg, BHA, and others in the ‘modern hunting media’ space,” he said. “I was drawn toward the upstream connection to food, head to tail eating, a newfound understanding of how conservation works, nature, wildlife, and I went down the rabbit hole. I listened and watched incessantly for two years. I consume everything.”
In early 2020, Nurry decided he was going to learn to hunt. To that point, he had been sitting on the sidelines and felt the pent-up desire to challenge himself.
“I knew it would be a lonely and arduous journey,” he said. “I was prepared for the grind. I didn’t know where to start and just went for it. I dedicated 2020 to getting outside, lake fishing for bluegill, surf fishing the coast, and reacclimating myself with the outdoors. I got my first firearm in December 2020. I committed to going hunting in 2021.” Soon he would hear the story of Juan Carlos and the early days of The Hunt in Common. I introduced him to Jordan via email as our two California chapter leaders.
“Ultimately, what tipped me over was some combination of the challenge and a need to reclaim ownership of my food supply and way of living,” Nurry said. “This was an opportunity to immerse myself in nature in a way I have never experienced before, and an intense desire to live a more balanced, holistic life. The initial hook was food, but it grew beyond that almost immediately. Food is a good hook. It is a leveler.”
Jordan hops out of his truck with a wide, welcoming grin on his face. The 28yearold former NFL offensive lineman is about three times Nurry’s size with a hulking figure and big beard that seem to offset his teddy bear demeanor. He wraps his arms around his friend, and they embrace.
Rigsbee was born and raised in Chico, the product of a tight-knit football family with deep roots in this place. His dad Craig was a college football coach, and his mom Karla was a 6thgrade teacher in the even smaller farming town of Durham. He’s engaged to be married and working hard to raise Murphy, his duck dog in training.
These days, after his retirement from football in 2017 due to injury, Jordan is a fanatical duck and deer hunter. He’s also a dedicated mentor.
We grab some tacos from a local spot and climb in Jordan’s truck to head east from Chico into the Sierra Nevada range. The plan is to take Nurry to a public land shooting range for some much-needed practice with his rifle, and then hit some hot spots to look for feral hogs.
As we wind our way into the mountains, the guys start comparing notes from their first duck hunt last fall.
“Jordan was our MVP this season, he took out six new duck hunters,” Nurry says. “There are so many new hunters in our group that want to do big game out of the gate. I’m glad we caught ducks first.”
“I remember laughing about how much we had to learn together,” Jordan replies. “But we stayed on the phone constantly, and you did it, man. You shot your first duck.”
Jordan shifts in his seat as we hit the Lassen National Forest; it’s obvious that he’s excited and maybe even a bit nervous. He worked hard planning this day of shooting and hunting, even picking a beautiful lunch spot so we could cook up and eat the ducks they had killed on that first hunt.
“Man, I put a lot of pressure on myself,” Jordan says. “The most frustrating thing as a mentor for me is the pressure to have a good day and show someone how amazing it is. I just don’t ever want to show someone a boring day.”
As we approach the tourist town of Chester, it becomes clear things aren’t as Jordan imagined. The roads are lined with charred trees and black soil. We’re in the heart of the remains of the Dixie Fire of 2021, the second largest wildfire in California history.
This fire started on July 13, and burned until late October, ripping through 963,309 acres and surrounding Chester in an apocalyptic scene. It’s a strange reality now, the main drag’s tourist shops, lodges, small antique stores, and diners appear against the backdrop of the evergreen ridges with streaks of black and brown burns.
At Jordan’s shooting spot, we get out to walk down the snow-covered road surrounded by burned timber. This is a part of hunting here and living in California. A stark reminder of the challenges outdoorsmen face in this region.
“We’re shot,” Jordan says. “We can’t do anything here.”
The trip isn’t a success, but it isn’t a failure either.
“Everything means something,” Nursery says. “Even the inevitable curveballs you experience as an outdoorsman still lead to important learnings. I think you must let the joys and frustrations exist in tandem — that’s what makes it real.”
We decide that we’re not going to be able to make it to our shooting spot, let alone spend the day exploring. It’s a false start, but Nurry and Jordan don’t seem phased.
“When we first met, we talked about this a lot didn’t we?” Jordan says. “Fires make it harder here. Sometimes they make it scarier.”
“I never had to think about that real threat,” Nurry says. “Now I wonder what I would do if I got caught in a fire. All hunters here have fire safety plans.”
We climb back in Jordan’s truck and don’t miss a beat. Jordan has a backup shooting range near town, we’ll head that way, making a quick stop to whip up some duck tacos.
We laugh, talk duck hunting, tell stories, and answer Nurry’s unending questions on the ride back. For him, every single opportunity to be around more experienced hunters is a chance to soak up knowledge. There are no boring days out here.
After our morning failure, we are ready to right the ship. Jordan’s backup spot is a rather nondescript public shooting range South of Chico. As we pull up, the talk turns to hunting values and viewpoints.
“I assume everyone I know holds the same view towards hunting that I used to,” Nurry said, “I think it’s still that way mostly for my area of L.A. and professional network. I don’t talk about hunting or guns openly in mixed company. But
I wear my hunting brands proudly now. I’m not afraid to admit I hunt and own hunting firearms if asked. Owning a firearm was a major hurdle I needed to overcome for myself and my wife. It seems to be a nonissue now for us.“
“My handle on Facebook is ‘Emergent Hunter’ because I didn’t want to use my name,” he continued. “I still don’t discuss hunting with anyone if I feel it won’t be well received. You can tell. My extended family did not take me seriously for a long time.”
Jordan drops the tailgate and starts unloading our gear. The range is chock full of trucks, minivans, and a diverse group of shooters.
“This is always a wild scene,” Jordan proclaims. “We’ll set up here at 100 yards.”
It’s not long before we realize what Jordan means by “wild.” To our left is a young man shooting a sawed-off shotgun from the hip at beer bottles. To our right is a kid flying a drone to film his friend shooting an AK47 while drinking a Bud Light Platinum. There are no range officers to be found.
“This is kind of typical,” Jordan says. “That’s why it was my second choice.”
Amidst the strange scene, Jordan bears down and gets Nurry lined up. They go through gun safety rules and talk about controlling the rifle.
Jordan talks about what it means to be “zeroed” and points of contact. Nurry sits upright and listens intently, applying the lessons almost immediately.
Before long, Nurry’s rifle is shooting tight groups and he looks good doing it.
“This is so huge,” he says. “Just confidence. I can’t tell you what this day means.” The scene at the range, watching Nurry learn despite the chaos, was a good reminder of the immense hurdles that a guy like him must overcome.
The Odd Couple
There are many reasons Nurry and Jordan don’t fit. They are so wildly different that this whole thing seems like some half-baked buddy comedy.
But it is real. This mentorship offers them both a window into a new world and a chance to step out of their respective comfort zones.
“I love that man,” Nurry said. “He is genuine with a huge heart. And a killer. He wants ‘it’ and drives himself hard. I barely know Jordan but feel immense pride in how he lives his life and the path he wants to forge. I’m a minute older than him, but sometimes I feel like a child in his presence. He’s the teacher. I’m a student.”
These two men are writing a story that defies the paradigm of patrilineal descent in hunting. For thousands of years, fathers have been teaching their children to go afield through an established system of kinship. Hunting feels normal and socially acceptable in this context.
Nurry doesn’t have that foundation. Before he met Jordan and joined The Hunt in Common, he quietly prepared to enter the hunting world by listening to podcasts and watching YouTube videos. He was faced with the absence of lineage and the loneliness of forging his own path. Now, Nurry is opening a new doorway through which his children might one day enter the hunting community. If so, they will do so as the first generation to be descendants of the emergent hunter. They will learn from a man who has carried the burden of responsibility that comes with being introduced to killing animals as an adult. Nurry will never know the innocence that only a child can conjure when pursuing game in the woods. But one day he might see it firsthand.
Those of us who followed our fathers down this path know what it feels like to hunt for the simple pleasure of being with dad. We feel this in our blood and know that our connection has familial meaning. Nurry’s family connection is a bit different. His wife and kids watch him with shock and awe. “They get it and appreciate that this is a journey I’m on,” he said. “And will be on for the rest of my life. Everyone wants to eat the food. Everyone is proud of me with each success.”
Through this mentorship, Jordan and Nurry have created something as unbreakable as those patrilineal bonds. They are approaching these early days of screwups and fleeting success with an incredible frontier spirit embodied by many emergent hunters. “Hunting is a channel for me to explore what’s real and meaningful. Life and death,” Nurry said. “It’s a physical manifestation of something I’ve been searching for…the truth. That may be over the top, but that’s what it feels like for me. I’ve gone through my mid-life crises and have a deeper appreciation of what I find important. Hunting meets me there.”
After our day of inspiring failure, the three of us retire to Jordan’s childhood home. Jordan lights the grill and goes to work on three giant ribeye steaks Nurry brought from some high-class butcher shop in L.A.
“If I have my way, this’ll be venison next time,” Nurry proclaims. He cracks open a beer and slumps his shoulders a bit, letting the wild circumstances of his journey thus far sink in. Soon enough, dinner is ready.
Tyler Childers’s song House of Fire plays in a low hum in the background, as the ceiling fan in the guesthouse spins slowly in the dim light. Our plates are empty now with only pools of bloody red steak juice left as evidence. Empty grease-smeared Coors Light cans wait to be replaced. It’s almost midnight. We’re drunk.
These guys are seething with passion. Jordan raises his voice and waves his arms wildly, but he’s not talking politics or challenging Nurry’s big city sensibilities. He’s talking about coming together. He wants his hypothetical kids to be hunters one day. Nurry wants the same for his little ones back home. These men are compelled to make each other better in a way I’ve rarely seen.
If there was ever a moment where I felt like I was leading these men, that’s gone now, they are drawing up plans completely their own.
They continue jabbing back and forth with raised voices, declaring what this day has meant to them. I sit back in my chair and watch, sipping my beer and wondering how in the hell we all got here.
“This is a better way to live,” Nurry says, pushing back from the table. “It’s just better. I need to share it.”
To Have a Hero