The Hunters follow the simplest, most enduring, and most ancient way of life known to humans. In ancient days, the Hunters succeeded in places where no other way of life could even start. While the Gardeners may have larger numbers, some places remain too inhospitable even for them. More often, things simply changed too quickly for anything but the most adaptive people — the Hunters — to survive.
The Hunters depend on a wide variety of plants and animals, so to starve them out takes something truly apocalyptic. Even insects and grubs provide a solid diet that Hunters can turn to when their favorite game becomes scarce and their favorite plants have not grown as well as they would like. When Hunters suffer famine, it means going without their favorite foods, not going without food.
Men usually hunt for meat, but not always and not exclusively. Small children will hunt their own small game, and any adult can go hunting when they feel moved to do so. Hunting always requires an undeniable element of luck and from that simple fact arises an economy of reciprocity and absolute generosity to improve everyone’s lot by sharing the risks of failure. When one hunter makes a kill, the whole band feasts together. When nobody comes up with anything, they all go hungry together. Animals also provide bone for tools and hide for clothes or leather for all manner of applications.
Because of their lifestyle, Hunters roam their land. They live in temporary shelters, moving across vast territories. With bows made of simple wood and sinew, the Hunters must come very close to their prey. That requires a kind of tracking that forces them to enter into a deep communion with the animals they pursue, feeling what they feel and thinking what they think. A hunter incapable of trusting his feelings, or empathizing so deeply with an animal through its tracks as to read its mind, will simply go hungry. A hunter must recognize the calls of animals and the songs of birds. He must know what they mean and mimic them precisely. In other words, a hunter must learn to speak with animals the same way he speaks with humans — by learning their language.
Gathering wild edibles provides a stable food supply and a crucial supplement to hunting animals. Plants provide medicine and other material, from cordage to dyes to fabric. As such, the Hunters possess an encyclopedic knowledge of the plants they use for food and medicine, far beyond mere rote memorization. Instead, they embed them in stories woven into the landscape they walk and the sounds they hear there.
Hunters live in bands, numbering from a dozen to no more than 50, with most hovering between 25 and 30 people. Within each band, several groups of extended families live, often splitting off into new groups or joining other existing bands. The ability to split off and join up with a different group keeps bands egalitarian, since no one remains bound or forced to submit to a situation they do not like. Consensus works at the family level, and at the band level. If they like the decision, they stay; if not, the group splits up. War remains nearly unheard of because the typical response to aggression takes the same form as for most problems: the band moves on to new grounds.
Though nomadic, Hunters do not move about randomly. They read the storied earth. These stories weave together with those of other bands migrating through the same territory and become invested with new layers of meaning in each generation. Occasionally, young boys and girls on the verge of adulthood will leave the group temporarily to walk those stories on their own or, rarely, to find new ones to bring back to their people. The band as a whole travels across their stories as a cycle, perhaps staying in one spot for a month, a season, or only a handful of days.
Hunting and gathering provides one of the primary means of making a living in the Fifth World, though all families combine it with at least some cultivation. At the most extreme end, hunter-gatherer families travel in nomadic bands of 10-60 people, usually hovering between 25 and 30 people, traveling in a regular circuit through a territory that will usually cover approximately 100 square miles. Territories become even larger in poorer environments, but become smaller in healthier environments and where families rely more heavily on cultivation. Thanks to their regular cycle, hunter-gatherer families can tolerate overlapping territories, so long as the bands’ cycles keep them in different areas at different times of the year. But, for example, one band might gather from one location in the wet season while another band might gather from it in the dry season.
Hunter-gatherers easily and fluidly break off into smaller groups, and then merge into larger ones. If one person becomes unpleasant or overbearing, those who do not like it will break off without a second thought. Several bands might come together to form a new band. This makes them particularly uninterested in war. Faced with an aggressor, they will usually just move away and come back later.